Israel silently watches the unfolding of two new fronts
Egypt, one of the only two Arab states to sign peace with Israel, is wobbling dangerously on the brink of revolutionary change with potentially spreading fallout. This week, Israel was dismayed to find itself looking suddenly at three latently hostile fronts about to spring up around its borders: Lebanon, which has dropped into the Iranian orbit, followed by Egypt, which is heading for terra incognita, and the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian Hamas, offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has gained altitude as a Middle East player from the rise of its less radical parent.
Indeed Gaza's rulers, who are close to Iran, are puffing themselves up as a bridge between the Shiite Revolution of Iran and the Sunni-led revolution of Egypt.
In the five days of the Egyptian upheaval from Tuesday, Jan. 25, none of the Israeli Middle East experts and pundits interviewed in one broadcast after another pointed to the three most pertinent common factors of the regime changes overtaking Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt – all in the space of days.
1. Not a single protester or slogan-bearer summoned up the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a factor in the most revolutionary transformations to overtake the region's countries in half a century. The Palestinians issue was totally absent from street demonstrations and Iran's takeover of Lebanon – giving the lie to the decades-long claim by Western decision- and opinion-makers that the Israel-Palestinian conflict was the root-cause of instability in the Arab and Muslim worlds and if it were not settled, those worlds would turn against the West. The Palestinians were plainly far from the minds of this week's Arab demonstrators.
2. The force most energized by the popular uprising in Egypt week turns out to be the extremist Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but also in Jordan. Its enhanced potency makes it a menace for Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah, and the Hashemite throne in Amman.
Flexing his new muscles, Hammam Saeed, head of the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan and a close ally of the Hamas's Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshaal, said this in Amman Saturday, Jan. 29: "Egypt's unrest will spread across the Mideast and Arabs will topple leaders allied with the United States."
debkafile's Middle East experts predict that however the Egyptian uprising turns out, and in whichever direction it is pushed and pulled by the United States, it will end in a new parliamentary election and a new civilian government in which the Muslim Brotherhood will be substantially represented.
This government will not abrogate the 1979 peace treaty binding Israel and Egypt for 33 years – no Cairo administration will risk losing the substantial aid package from America – but its format will change. The intimacy of day-to-day cooperation on common security and other matters may well be disappear and Israeli political, military and intelligence figures will not longer be welcome in Cairo for consultations on common concerns as they are today.
The Palestinian leader Abbas may also find the welcome mat withdrawn, unless he is willing to succumb to Hamas and cede control of the West Bank to the Palestinian extremists.
Both set s of visitors will be replaced by Hamas leaders from Damascus, Beirut and the Gaza Strip beating a path to the Egyptian capital.
3. Over the weekend, more than one high Iranian official was patting himself on the back over the way the Egyptian upheaval was turning out – especially the Al Qods Brigades commander, Qhassem Soleimani, whom debkafile's exclusive sources disclose has just been promoted to Major General, the second highest rank in Iran's armed forces.
For 15 years as Al Qods chief, he has overseen all of Iran's clandestine, sabotage and subversive operations in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, managed Hizballah's terrorist and spy cells active in West and East Africa, built up Hizballah as the leading military force on home ground in Lebanon, and developed the military prowess of the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami in the Gaza Strip.
Soleimani feels triumphantly vindicated in his decision to build up Hamas as Hizballah No. 2 and furnish the Palestinian extremists in the Gaza Strip with the missiles and weapons systems required to make them a formidable military force.
The Al Qods Brigades chief now takes credit for Hamas's readiness for the enhanced role it has gained from the popular uprising in Egypt.
But Israel's strategic planners should be kicking themselves for failing to curb Iran's military expansion into Lebanon and the Gaza Strip before it developed. The consequence of their inaction is two new long potentially hostile borders to Israel's south.