America's handling of the Egyptian crisis has severe repercussions for U.S. foreign policy around the Middle East and may convince some western-friendly Arab regimes that President Obama is a fair weather friend, according to Israel's former national security adviser.
“When they (other Arab states) estimate the situation and ask themselves should we continue to rely on America assistance, even during bad times, or maybe we should choose Iran because Iran might be more reliable then certain shifts might occur. I think this is a very dangerous process," said retired Major General Giora Eiland.
Eiland advised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during the Gaza disengagement and was responsible for much of the Israeli military operations during the second intifada. He spoke loudly about the fears, that Israeli leaders seem to be whispering lately, that the Obama administration's bungling of the Iranian protests last year, the peace process, and the current situation in Egypt changes the ball game in the Middle East and has cost the United State precious political capital while leaving open the door for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over in Israel's only two Arab allies. "If, in the end of the day, this is going to be the result in Jordan, Israel actually returns to the 60s, a time or situation when Israel was surrounded by enemies. This is, of course, very severe consequences."
Israel has remained almost silent in recent days about the clashes in Egypt, while hoping that President Hosni Mubarak would hold on to power. Israeli President Simon Peres reminded the press during a meeting that democracy in Muslim countries isn't always a good thing for Israel. With western encouragement, Gaza held free elections only to have Hamas win an overwhelming majority. The militant group, which is closely related to the Muslim Brotherhood, lists a key organizational goal as the destruction of Israel.
Egypt was the first country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state and for 30-plus years much of Israel's current defense and intelligence strategy has been built on the assumption that its southern neighbor will at the very least remain neutral in any crisis. Israel could take for granted the Egyptians would not interfere with security operations in Gaza or during a possible conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. That may not remain the case, Eiland said.
The unrest in Cairo creates a major tactical problem for Israel because Egypt has traditionally worked to stop the flow of arms to Hamas along its border with Gaza, and also rounded up a number of Hamas operatives in the Sinai denying the militant group areas to train and regroup. With the Egyptian military and police preoccupied with the protesters, reports continue to stream out of Gaza that jailed Hamas operatives escaped Egyptian prisons only to sneak across the border to Gaza in addition to the militant groups' increased smuggling activity.
If the Muslim Brotherhood or a similarly hard-line Islamic group takes over in Egypt, Israel may have to redraw all of its contingency plans. "A peace agreement by itself means very little…we know a treaty is kept as long as the interests of both sides are to keep it," Eiland said. If Egypt once again started to move troops and tanks into the now demilitarized Sinai desert, Israel would be faced with a problem that current military planning doesn't take into account. "The size of the Israeli armed forces, the security budget and many other things are built under the assumption of that the war with Egypt is not very probable. If such an assumption changes, we will have probably to increase military budget and it has, of course, many affects on the Israeli economy."
Eiland was quick to point out that a hard-line regime isn't a forgone conclusion in Egypt, but key observers have noted that a popular uprising in an Arab country has never ended in a progressive western democracy. One journalist, who was on the ground during the Iranian Revolution, which brought down the Israel friendly Shaw, said Cairo 2011 looks much like Tehran 1979. However, like Iran, whose revolution began as a pro-democracy movement and was then co-opted by the Ayatollahs, a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the revolution might take a few years. "The only good news is even if a very bad scenario comes true, we probably have enough time."
Perhaps it was more how the United States said it, than what they said. Eiland indicated the U.S. could have said the same things to President Mubarak about the protests, but that doing so publicly and so vocally to a 'friend' was embarrassing enough that other Arab leaders in moderate Gulf states like Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates may reevaluate their relationship with the U.S. This would redraw the strategic map in the Middle Eat.. He also echoed a continuing theme in the Israeli political and military community: The Obama administration is not a reliable ally and couldn't understand why the U.S. remained silent during the Iranian pro-democracy protests, yet quickly weighed in on the Egyptian crisis. " The American administration made two mistakes in the last two years."
Leland Vittert currently serves as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C., and co-anchor of America’s News Headquarters(Sundays at 1PM/ET) alongside Elizabeth Prann. Vittert joined the network in 2010.