Islamist factions come together over shared dreams of destroying Israel.
In comments posted by Iran’s Fars News Agency that are ominous but not surprising, Egypt’s newly elected Muslim Brotherhood president Muhamed Morsi said Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel will be “revise[d],” blasted Egypt’s military leaders for dissolving its Islamist-dominated parliament, and asserted that forging relations with Iran is “part of my agenda” and would “create a strategic balance in the region.”
The Iranian Armed Forces, for their part, lauded Morsi’s victory as “the first stage of Egypt’s revolution in the era of Islamic Awakening.” They also called on the Egyptian military—the main opposition to the Egyptian Islamists—to “welcome this divine blessing with open arms” and share in the building of Egypt “based on Islamic foundations….”
Under former president Hosni Mubarak, Sunni-Arab Egypt led the regional bloc that opposed Shiite-Persian Iran. In one case in 2009, Egypt rounded up an Iranian-backed Hizbullah espionage ring in the country that aimed to bring down Mubarak’s regime.
It is, of course, always notable how easily Sunni and Shiite radicals—who in other contexts, like Iraq in recent years, fight each other savagely—will sometimes emerge as the best of friends. In this case, visions of jointly destroying Israel and subjugating the whole Middle East have evoked an orgy of smiles between Tehran and the Islamist faction in Cairo.
Hamas, too—formerly an Iranian client and recently moving back into the Brotherhood’s embrace—celebrated Morsi’s win in Gaza along with the population. Hamas head of government Ismail Haniyeh told Reuters TV that “We will look to Egypt to play a big, leading role…in helping the Palestinian nation get freedom [and] return home….”
Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said, “We are ready to sacrifice our blood to protect Egyptian soldiers” as sweets were handed out to Egyptian-flag-waving civilians in the streets.
Naturally, Israel’s reaction to Morsi’s triumph is quite different.
Israelis are aware that Egypt’s Supreme Military Council (SCAF) made a major move last week—in addition to earlier dissolving the parliament—to curtail the Islamists’ powers, including the president’s power to declare war. Eyal Zisser, a Middle East specialist at Tel Aviv University, noted that “The military is hoping that Morsi loses his momentum quickly”—and also “hope[s] to get rid of him in the same manner that they dispersed the parliament.
But Zisser added: “We can only hope that…it won’t be the Islamists who have the last laugh. In Turkey, after all, the generals who anticipated Erdogan’s political demise after he won the premiership are now sitting behind bars.”
Veteran military commentator Ron Ben Yishai was also somber, writing that “for the first time in Egypt’s history, the country’s government adheres to blatant religious-Islamist ideology… regardless of the ongoing power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the generals of the Supreme Military Council.”
Such a regime, says Ben Yishai, “will be hostile to Israel based on its very nature and worldview…. This is what happened in Iran in the 1970s and more recently in Turkey, Gaza and Tunisia.”
Should the Arab domino effect continue to favor political Islam, the chance of securing a peace agreement with the Palestinians is nil. Moreover, under this state of affairs, the peace treaty with Jordan faces a significant threat, and we may also find various terror groups associated with the Brotherhood, the Salafists and Global Jihad on our borders with Syria and Jordan.
Another commentator, Dan Margalit, stated morosely that “The flag of peace between Israel and Egypt, which was always at half-mast, has dropped to the quarter mark following the Arab Spring.”
And another one, Boaz Bismuth, sounded a note of bitterness, writing that
[Muslim Brotherhood founder] Hassan al-Banna had a vision: He and those who inherited his legacy were supposed to topple the existing regimes in Arab countries one after another and unite them under a singular international Islamic regime with the slogan “The Quran is our constitution.” That was his dream, which was blocked by a dam, until U.S. President Barack Obama came and breached the dam.
Egypt’s own Ahram Online reports that Egypt’s secular and liberal parties share the perception that the U.S. backed the Brotherhood candidate and helped him win, with Osama Ghazali Harb of the Democratic Front Party “claim[ing] the US was pressuring SCAF to hand over power to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Notably, except for right-of-center Bismuth, none of the above-quoted Israeli commentators is a right-winger. But the hope that Egypt’s Islamist tide can still be contained, without a deterioration into intensified terror if not war, is hardly a divisive right-left issue.
It was, however, Israel’s trade three decades ago of the entire Sinai Peninsula for a peace treaty with Egypt—albeit carried out by Likud prime minister Menachem Begin—that launched the land-for-peace paradigm. And it was left-wingers who latched onto it with gusto, seeking to apply it hastily and enthusiastically to the Syrian and Palestinian fronts—with dire effects of drastically increased terror in the latter domain.
Today Israel is a country still undergoing a maturation process, which involves more realistically assessing the roiling, unstable surrounding entities instead of projecting dreams and hopes onto them. Obsessive talk about just which concessions would finally convert the Palestinians into paragons of peace has been replaced by worried, nonpartisan speculations about the future of Gaza, Sinai, and Egypt itself.
Israel is also a country that is mostly hoping for a new U.S. administration that would be more inclined to back the right instead of the wrong side in Middle Eastern disputes. Of course, from now till the end of this year—with the Iranian, Syrian, Egyptian, and other situations remaining very much unresolved—anything could happen.
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