Israel rethinking its defence doctrine


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TEL AVIV -- For the first time since its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel finds itself politically besieged.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2011 (4381 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TEL AVIV — For the first time since its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel finds itself politically besieged.

When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed their peace treaty in Washington on March 26, 1979, the regional political landscape was totally different.

Turkey was Israel’s strategic ally, and the Khomeini Revolution was busy establishing its Islamic institutions in Iran. Lebanon’s Hezbollah was non-existent, as was Hamas.

Now, Syria and Hezbollah are establishing themselves as the dominant forces in Lebanon; Jordan risks becoming the next target of the “Facebook Revolution”; Hamas is holding firm in the Gaza Strip and challenging the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Even if the peace treaty with Egypt is not abrogated, Israel has to take into consideration the possible rise in power and influence of Muslim Brotherhood in the Nile Valley. This dramatic change in the political landscape forces Israel to re-examine its defence doctrine, that is still based — to a large extent — on the peace with Egypt.

Despite the excellence of its intelligence services and technological superiority, Israel was caught off-guard. The reason? Israel was focused mainly on security and strategy and less on domestic issues — like unemployment, poverty and corruption and their impact on the regime’s stability.

Israel, for example, didn’t understand that for many Egyptian students, their university degree was no more than a membership card in the “club of the unemployed.”

Therefore, when the demonstrations hit the Cairo streets last Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among only three regional leaders who called President Hosni Mubarak and expressed hope that he would overcome the crisis.

The other two were Saudi King Abdullah and the Emir of Kuwait.

Furthermore, in telephone conversations with U.S. President Barack Obama, both Netanyahu and the Saudi king stressed the importance of Egypt for regional stability.

Therefore, and without saying it publicly, Israel and moderate Arab leaders were appalled by what appeared to them as the “abandonment” of Mubarak by Obama.

On the other hand, Israel was pleased with the appointment of Gen. Omar Suleiman as vice-president, a step that could indicate that Mubarak intents to keep the presidency with the help of the military.

Suleiman, a former chief of intelligence, has a friendly relationship with the Israeli defence establishment and has visited Israel many times.

Without waiting for the outcome of the “Street Revolution” in Cairo, however, Israeli strategists are working around-the-clock, preparing various options for a new Israeli defence strategy, with one leading assumption that Mubarak’s presidency could end now or within months.

Unlike Tunisia, where the army was opposed to the president, the Egyptian army appears — for now — to be loyal to Mubarak while maintaining the people’s trust.

For most Israeli strategists, the preferred solution for the current Egyptian crisis is that the Egyptian army — 500,000 soldiers strong, trained and armed by the U.S. — continues to play an important role in Egyptian politics.

Under Mubarak, Egypt kept the Sinai desert semi-demilitarized. It sealed the Gaza Strip in an effort to prevent smuggling of arms and terrorists in support of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also played an important role in the struggle against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This situation enabled Israel to reduce its military budget from 23 per cent of GNP in 1979, to 11 per cent today. A change in Egyptian military doctrine would force Israel to increase its military budget, at the expense of vital social services. Israel would also be forced to mobilize more troops to protect its Egyptian border.

What is even more serious — a new Egyptian regime with enhanced Muslim influence potentially could lead to war with Israel in the future and could encourage Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan.

Even before this crisis, the Jordanian opposition sought to limit the powers of the monarchy. In a letter addressed to King Abdullah, opposition leaders demanded that, henceforth, the government should be accountable to the parliament and not to the king’s court. King Abdullah ignored the appeal and still rules as an “absolute monarch.”

In light of Mubarak’s abandonment, can King Abdullah be sure that the U.S. will do its utmost to keep him on his throne?

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press Middle East correspondent.

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