Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tehran in Cairo? That's How it Appears to Israelis

This weekend a mob of Egyptian rioters invaded the Israeli embassy in Cairo, (see the Aluf Benn story from Ha'Aretz) forcing a hurried retreat by plane to Israel. The Israeli flag was torn from the flagpole and shredded by the mob. To Americans seeing footage of this, it brings back memories of the capture of the "nest of spies" that the Iranian revolution claimed was the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. That same period saw the regime of the mullahs take over the Israeli embassy and turn it over to the PLO. Many Israelis may well wonder if that is the fate that is in store for the Israeli embassy in Egypt. With the military regime still in charge in Cairo, this seems rather unlikely--unless economic conditions require a foreign scapegoat.

Since Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the prime minister's office in Jerusalem in 2009, the region has seen the makings of a future tinderbox. The elevation of an uneasy coalition of the Right in Jerusalem coincided with the shift in foreign policy by the Tayip Erdogan government in Ankara. The Turkish government, wishing to return at least in terms of influence to the areas of the former Ottoman Empire, started to vigorously compete with Iran for influence in the Arab world. It did this by supporting the demands of Palestinians to have the Israeli blockade of Gaza lifted. Ankara assisted in the dispatch of a flotilla of blockade-busting ships to Gaza last year. They were intercepted by the Israeli army in international waters and boarded when they refused to pull over for inspection. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in clashes with the lightly armed passengers of the ships who offered resistance to the takeover. A recent UN report vindicated the Israeli blockade and criticized the Israeli government for using too much force. Jerusalem has refused to apologize to Ankara as demanded, leading to a break in diplomatic relations.

This followed an incident in which an assistant of Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman attempted to humiliate the Turkish ambassador by delivering a diplomatic demarche over programming on Turkish television that was anti-semitic in the most humiliating way possible. Ankara was quite happy to have its revenge.

So now we have a dynamic in which the Egyptian and Turkish governments can exploit the feelings of humiliation at the hands of  a non-Muslim people and government that is seen as foreign to the region. This in turn reinforces the siege mentality of the Israeli electorate who have now lost their closest ally in the Muslim Middle East, Turkey, and risk losing their strategic anchor, Egypt, of their security policy. The only thing worse would be if suddenly the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by the Palestinians. Fortunately for Israel, such a contingency appears rather remote. 

Expect in turn an even further-right government following Israel's next election either later this year or in 2012. How different this is from the first Likud government that came to power in 1977 and made peace with Egypt.

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