A Middle East Update

May 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview

I have a very dear friend who lives near Jerusalem.  His name is Ronny Simon, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Defense Force, who serves as my guide when I lead my annual tours of Israel.  He recently sent me a detailed email on his perspective about what is occurring in the Middle East today.  He is a published author and has valuable insights to offer.  Therefore, in this Perspective I am sharing with you an edited version of his comments.

The Middle East is experiencing unrest and turmoil like never before.  The last wave of unrest in the Arab world had taken place during the 1950s and 1960s.  That was a wave of revolutions initiated usually by army personnel, who led a coup to overthrow corrupt regimes.  The new regimes in Egypt and Syria that emerged during that period were more about Arab nationalism than Islam.  In both cases, the corruption of the old regime was part of the reason for the coup.  Both sought to restore Arab national pride, which was affected by the creation of Israel and the defeat in subsequent 1948 war.  Anti-Israeli sentiments played a major role in the new regimes? agenda.  Hatred of Israel was the common thread of these movements

?From a strictly Israeli standpoint, we are watching carefully the dynamic in our two closest geographical neighbors, Egypt and Syria.?

1. Egypt

In Egypt, the military had seized power, seemingly only for a while until a new constitution will be formed.  Then, it is promised, the army will declare free elections and pass power peacefully to an elected government.  In Egypt, the military is highly respected by the people and the fact that the Egyptian army refused to open fire on the demonstrators worked in their favor.  The tone ?from the Egyptian street? is very anti-Israeli.  ?Every potential candidate for president tries to score points by bashing Israel at every opportunity.  The logic behind those tones is simple ? since the former ruler was a dictator, he did not represent the will of the people.?  Therefore, the peace treaty with Israel contradicts the will of the Egyptian people and should be cancelled.  The Israeli – Egyptian peace treaty is indeed in danger.  The situation in Egypt also affects the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  With the unrest in Egypt, the authorities have no will or energy to patrol and watch what happens in the Sinai.  Through the Sinai, weapons are smuggled into the Gaza Strip and, without Egyptian presence in the area, access to Gaza is much easier.  The joint effort that Israel and Egypt had invested in stopping the arms smuggling was bearing fruit, but no longer.  In addition, the pipeline that carries gas from Egypt to Israel has been sabotaged several times over the last months.  Meanwhile, demonstrators outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo are calling ?Death to Israel.?

The most disturbing issue, however, is the growing involvement of the ?Muslim Brotherhood? in the events unfolding in Egypt.  At first the Brotherhood had kept a very low profile.  They did not want to take the front line ?knowing that unrest based on Muslim radical demands will not be supported by the other demonstrators.  The revolution had its popularity because it was representing the Egyptian nation as a whole and was not serving only one agenda.  However now, with increased confusion and unrest, the Muslim Brotherhood is gaining more power.?

With no organized opposition, the winner in the upcoming election will not necessarily be someone who represents the majority of the people, but the one who is better organized.  The Muslim Brotherhood is well-organized, well-prepared and well-motivated.  They may not represent the majority of the Egyptian people but as for now they are the only group ready to govern the country.  The Brotherhood speaks about the bond between Egypt and Hamas in Gaza and about Egypt?s commitment to side with Hamas in its war against Israel.

From the Israeli viewpoint, the Muslim Brotherhood in power would be a worst case scenario.  Would the Egyptian people support the Brotherhood?  Among Egyptian liberals and intellectuals, the hatred of Israel is growing.  Many circles of the Egyptian society are united around their hatred Israel more than around any other cause.

In an odd way, the military domination of Egypt, as long as it is controlled by the present military hierarchy, will guarantee, at least for the short term, the Israeli-Egyptian peace.  But for the long term in Israel, the rise of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is our greatest fea

2. Syria

The situation in Syria is different.  The Syrian administration is based on a small group in Syrian society – the Alawites.  This group rules Syria with an iron fist.  The Assad family, who are Alawites, came to power through a revolution in the 1960s.  The Alawites only make up about 12 percent of the population, although they hold all the important positions in the country.  The Assad regime, first Haphez and now Bashar, because they are a small minority, can only rule with brutal force.  Therefore, the unrest in Syria has in it elements that do not resemble Egypt.  For example, there are several groups that cannot be ignored?the Kurds, the Druze, opposing segments of the Muslim faith, primarily Sunni, all add to the confusion in Syria.  Each of these groups is further divided into clans and tribes that are also in constant conflict with each other.  [Egypt is a more homogeneous society; it is one nation and one Arab ethnic group.]  How has Syria dealt with this diversity?  In 1982, in the Syrian city of Hamah, the Syrian army butchered some 20,000 of its citizens that dared to demonstrate against the regime.  That event is still vivid in the minds of Syrians.  Chaos in Syria also means the deeper involvement of Iran.  Iran has a lot to lose from a regime change in Syria.  Chaos in Syria also means more weapons flowing into Lebanon for Hezbollah.  Therefore, Iran will do whatever needs to be done to maintain Assad in power.  ?So, from an Israeli stand point, stability in Syria under the present regime seems to be the preferred situation.?

Ronny?s conclusion:  ?The voices that are coming from Egypt carry the same message ? the hatred of Israel overpowers everything else.  The West refuses to understand how deep this hatred of Israel is.  Changes in the Arab world may lead to regime change but they will not decrease the deep hatred of Islam towards the Israel and for the West in general.  It looks like the era of Arab nationalism is over.  The main question is what will replace these nationalist regimes?  A more radical Muslim caliphate or a true democracy?  Time will only tell!?


Comments Closed