About the series: Adalah ("justice" in Arabic) is a diary series about the Middle East, with special (but not exclusive) emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The authors of this series believe in the right of self-determination for all the people of the Middle East and that a just resolution respecting the rights and dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis is the only viable option for peace. Our diaries will consist of news roundup and analysis. We invite you to discuss them in the comments or contribute with stories from the region which deserve attention. We ask only that you be respectful and that the number of meta comments be kept to a minimum. When dk4 comes out, we will create a group. Until then, you can follow us on the beta site.
As I’m sure everyone is aware, turmoil is wracking the Middle East. Regimes, positions, and informal arrangements that have been stable for decades are suddenly collapsing. There have been dozens of DKos diaries around the Egyptian protests, which are organized via the Mothership diary here. The news there is too fast moving and complex for me to track, and I recommend everyone utilize the Mothership to keep up with Egypt. Additionally, I’ve been attempting to catalogue the larger protests around the Arab world here: Middle East and North Africa Protest Tracker.
Today's diary is part of the Adalah series. It will continue my focus on countries outside of Egypt to specifically look at how Israel's dominant position in the region is changing.
First, the news stories:
The sadly tedious news continues. The Occupation and the slow strangulation of the Palestinians (in any other context, it would be called ethnic cleansing), quietly continues:
- In East Jerusalem,
as the municipal council approves more settler houses
in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah
(h/t to Sofia for the details),
- In the West Bank,
as 25 barns and Red Cross tents are demolished
by Israeli authorities in Khirbet Tana (the fourth time such structures have been demolished recently),
- In Gaza,
as Israeli jets wound 8 Gazans and set fire to a Health Ministry medicine warehouse
in northern Gaza,
- Inside Israel itself,
as clashes break out between the Bedouin of al-Arakib, a village Israel has destroyed a dozen times
, and workers attempting to turn the village into a woodland,
- By official military forces
, as a teenager was hospitalized after being shot in the leg
by Israeli forces with a rubber-coated bullet, and
- By unofficial paramilitary forces,
as settlers, escorted by police
, disrupt Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez’s visit to Hebron, calling her an anti-Semite and Nazi (accusations so commonplace that they risk losing meaning).
Beyond the daily abuses, Israel is starting to feel the pinch from the Egyptian revolution:
The gas remains shut off. As you may know, a key Egyptian gas pipeline which supplies Israel with 40% of its natural gas (as well as providing significant amounts to both Jordan and Syria) was blown up on February 4. After stating that deliveries would resume within 48 hours and then one week, yhe owners now say it will reopen on February 17. Of course, there is no guarantee that whoever blew it up won’t simply do so again. After all, the deal was very unpopular with Egyptians (e.g. "Natural Gas Sold to Israel Fuels Fury in Egypt"), and it is not clear who blew the pipeline up. The attack on the pipeline likely had as much to do with denying the Egyptian government a key revenue source as breaking links with Israel, but Israel is paying an extra $1.5 million per dayto burn dirty fossil fuels because of the shutdown.
More power to the military. Recent reports claim that Israel has injected an extra $190 million into the military budget in response to the Egyptian revolution. It’s not really much, but it could be a sign of things to come. Additionally, seeing how quickly Facebook and online activists can rally people against bad governments and policies, Israel is taking action. Not action to reform its policies, of course, but to hire new online warriors to fight the battle of Facebook.
Ehud Barak in US for emergency consultations. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has raced to Washington for consultations with Clinton, Gates, Donilon, and Ross. Barak's visit will focus on the Egyptian unrest and its impact on Israel and the strategic balance in the region.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is facing a severe legitimacy crisis arising from the sudden onset of Arab outrage over all repressive governments, and also from the release of the Palestine Papers, which highlighted the PA’s willingness to adhere to Israel’s positions over those of its own people.
The PA has responded by lashing out at Qatar and Al Jazeera, with Palestinian lead negotiator Erekat claiming that Qatar holds significant investments in the settlements.
The PA is also attempting to reclaim some its legitimacy by calling for new local elections on July 9. These are merely local elections, not elections for Parliament or the Presidency. Hamas, however, appears to have no intention of helping the PA regain legitimacy, and is refusing to participate in such elections.
In the meantime, the PA keeps up its support of Israel, helpfully noting that Fatah, at least, was not behind the bombing the Egyptian gas pipeline (as though anyone had doubts).
Hamas is watching the Egyptian protests with great uncertainty. It feeds the Egyptian troops while denouncing the regime. Hamas is uncertain whether to allow protests and hope to use its anti-Israel/anti-US position to ride the wave of Arab anger, or to suppress the movement against brutal and repressive governments which could easily endanger its own rule. Several protests have been suppressed, but at least one has been allowed. A Facebook page is calling for protests to topple the Hamas government, but it is not yet clear if they have any on-the-ground support.
Hariri supporters and allies pull out of talks for a unity government, leaving Hezbollah and the March 8 alliance to form a government on their own. However, Hariri’s supporters can only mount street protests numbering in the hundreds, suggesting their refusal to join the government is not necessarily a sign of strength. Meanwhile, Israel steps up its belligerency, refusing to withdraw from the Lebanese village of Ghajar, despite repeated promises to do so.
There is real news here. Weekly protests over the last several weeks have forced the King to dismiss his cabinet and increase subsidies to the people. However, even as a new cabinet is sworn in, the Jordanian tribes, rough 40% of the population, make a direct threat of revolt. They continue to pledge loyalty to the throne, but warn that a Tunisian or Egyptian-like uprising is getting closer. Queen Rania, a popular figure in the West, is a target of the protest because of accusations of corruption. Moody’s is worried about Jordan’s stability, and has downgraded Jordan’s debt rating.
What do all of these stories mean together in light of the ongoing revolution in Egypt?
What do Egypt and Mubarak mean to Israel?
Israel has long been a supporter of President Hosni Mubarak, ever since he took over Egypt following Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Mubarak has been a strong supporter of Israeli interests, helping to keep the anti-Israel population quiet, suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, completing the Israeli siege of Gaza, providing large amounts of natural gas to Israel, etc. Mubarak has, of course, been richly rewarded by the US to the tune of $1 – 2 billion per year for thirty years now.
The peace with Egypt (and to a much lesser extent, Jordan), has been critical for Israel. This peace has allowed 2 things:
- A massive drop in military expenditures, from about 24% of the GDP to today’s level at about 7%. This massive drop allowed both for a great deal more money to be invested in Israel, sharply improving standards of living (for Jews, Arab citizens were largely left out), and made the Occupation affordable.
- Increased freedom of action for the Israeli military. It was only after peace with Egypt, when the majority of the IDF no long needed to face the south, that Israel could launch its multiple invasions of Lebanon, its attacks on Syria, its invasion of Gaza, its remilitarization of the West Bank, etc.
Mubarak and his successor Suleiman, whom Israel has long backed, have been instrumental for Israel in the last three decades.
What does the revolution in Egypt mean for Israel?
Obviously, we can’t know yet. If Suleiman, Mubarak’s and Israel’s (and the US’s) hand-picked successor manages to maintain his control of Egypt, then the revolution will mean very little. Suleiman will have learned that the people are not completely powerless, and so will have to distance himself from the unpopular pro-Israel policies on the surface, but in fact very little will change.
On the other hand, if the protesters are successful in bringing about a democratic government, many of the pro-Israel policies will almost certainly end. For instance, the Egyptian supply of natural gas to Israel is already under siege as discussed above, and such an unpopular agreement is unlikely to see smooth sailing in a democratic Egypt.
Likewise, the deeply unpopular Egyptian participation in the siege of Gaza will almost certainly end under a democratic government. This is not to say that Hamas will be welcomed with open arms, but that the humanitarian siege will be ended. This will have the effect of weakening Israeli control over Gaza and strengthening the Palestinians ability to resist, and also denying Israel the revenues it makes from requiring all humanitarian aid to be shipped through Israel.
Finally, Israel will likely increase its military deployments in the south, and feel more constrained in taking such actions as invading Lebanon in the north. As discussed above, Israel has injected an extra $190 million into the military budget. That will only be a down payment on the costs if Israeli-Egyptian tensions increase sharply.
Will Israel and Egypt go to war?
Certainly not at Egypt’s instigation, and not likely at Israel’s either. Egypt has nothing to gain from such a war, as even if it could defeat Israel, Israel’s nukes make any issue of conquest moot. As for Israel, while it has a history of attacking neighbors to maintain a dominant position, it is unlikely to seek a direct confrontation with a nation the size of Egypt, given its limited success against a force as small as Hezbollah recently.
Would Egypt remilitarize the Sinai?
Not quickly, if at all. Israel has allowed (yes, Israel gets to say how many troops Egypt can place in the Sinai) Egypt to move two battalions of troops to the Sinai. A democratic government would not likely withdraw these. Israel will claim it is a violation of the treaty, Egypt will claim Israel agreed to it. But wholesale militarization of the Sinai is unlikely at least while the US continues to pay subsidies.
This is the real wildcard. As long as the Egyptian government does not remilitarize the Sinai and keeps the Suez Canal open, presumably the US would continue paying its $1-2 billion in annual subsidies. However, right-wing US and Israeli politicians will immediately begin calling for the subsidies to be cut in response to any move Israel does not like (such as opening the Gaza border). This could set off a spiral in which subsidies are cut in retaliation for Egyptian actions followed by Egyptian moves in retaliation followed by further retaliatory subsidy cuts. By linking demilitarization of the Sinai to US bribes, the US effectively forces itself to continue paying them or else propel parties to change their course.
What will Israel do?
Israel, as I said, is highly unlikely to attack Egypt. However, it will deploy more forces to the south, to the Egyptian and Gazan borders. Further, if Egypt opens the border, Israel may again invade Gaza, this time seizing the "Philadelphi corridor" (the Gaza border with Egypt) to reassert the siege of Gaza. Israel has the power to take control of this corridor, but holding it is another matter. The invasion and occupation would be greatly damaging to Israel on the international stage, and further it would be very expensive in terms of money and lives. The Israeli troops would be under constant Palestinian fire.
What about Jordan?
If the Hashemite monarchy falls, Israel’s position in the West Bank will be similar to that in Gaza. Any new, even mildly democratic government would be very anti-Israel, and very interested in a resolution for the Palestinians. Israel would need to reinforce the West Bank border with Jordan, since it could no longer count on Jordan to help control it.
What about Lebanon?
Israel leans heavily on Lebanon, with its main ability to control events being based on its well-demonstrated willingness to attack. With Israel’s attention pinned in the south, it will be far less able to intervene in events in Lebanon, and far less able to credibly threaten a major invasion (since it wouldn’t want its army bogged down north of the country as in 1982).
What will be the near-term changes in Palestine?
No immediate change is expected in Palestine. The PA, with heavy Israeli and US backing, has both the force and the money to keep itself in power and prevent any uprisings for now. Likewise, Hamas is sheltered by its revolutionary credentials from some of the wave of Arab anger, and probably has enough force to prevent an uprising from the rest. The pre-division of Palestine into armed factions helps strangle popular revolt.
Nonetheless, in the long term, PA has little room to maneuver. Having little democratic legitimacy, having been undermined by the Palestine Papers' proof that it is willing to sell out Palestinian positions, and having no ability anyway to even bring Israel to Israel's stated positions, the PA's job appears only to keep the West Bank quiescent for Israel. The PA's only strategy is to throw itself on the mercy of the world, which it is doing vigorously and with some success, as more and more nations recognize Palestine, and as a draft UNSC resolution condemning the settlements slowly trundles through the UN (without US support). This begging strategy gains friends and influence, but it is not clear how the PA would actually convert this to change on the ground.
Meanwhile Hamas, though also lacking significant democratic legitimacy, is better poised to rise in the future. The Egyptian revolution may well weaken or end Egyptian participation in the siege of Gaza, allowing Gaza to rebuild both its economy and its defenses. Whatever response Israel takes, whether or not Israel intervenes (such as by seizing the border) will only redound to Hamas' benefit. At some point, Israel and other parties will be forced to accept Hamas as a real and legitimate actor on the scene.
Israel’s position is greatly threatened by the revolutions in Egypt and the wider Arab world. It does not face direct invasion or war. However, it faces having substantially fewer allies (especially having driven away its former ally, Turkey) and greatly reduced ability to control the Palestinians. It faces much increased military costs just to maintain its current position, never mind dominating its neighbors (continuing to threaten attacks on Iran? Fuggetaboutit).
Finally, the long term consequences for the Occupation are devastating. As democracy blossoms in the Middle East, Israel’s claim to being "the only democracy in the Middle East" becomes steadily more laughable, and its position is seen as "biggest obstacle to democracy in the Middle East." With other peoples in the region gaining democracy, the Palestinians' cry for the same will resonate louder, and focus will sharpen on those Arabs who remain unfree and brutalized. Israel, having supported the Arab dictators for decades, stands to lose heavily from their fall.