Israel’s next challenge: Obama’s outreach to Muslim Brotherhood
Israelis celebrate the 63rd anniversary of their independence this week in good cheer. Neither by word nor hint have its leaders referred to the challenge facing the country in the year to come: Barack Obama, President of Israel's best friend and ally, has picked the Muslim Brotherhood movement of the Middle East as his chosen partner for promoting American interests in the Arab world in place of its ousted rulers. His courtship of this organization, which he regards as moderate, was the rationale, say debkafile's Washington and counter-terror sources, behind his bold decision to get rid of Osama bin Laden, a step which his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, held back from although they knew where he was.
Many people forgot the vow Obama made in Cairo on June 4 to mend America's fences with the Muslim world, but he meant every word. His White House has made forging a pact between the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood their ultimate policy objective, although they do not expect to achieve it in one fell swoop.
Bin Laden's death was part of the US president's unfolding game plan:
1. He needed to demonstrate unswerving resolve to eradicate the terrorist threat posed by Islamic extremists;
2. The Muslim Brotherhood and its national chapters needed to be held back from falling into the arms of Islamic radicalism if it were to qualify as the centerpiece of America's new beginning with the Arab world.
Another part of the Obama game plan was the "Arab Spring" for paving the way to that beginning by making decades'-old autocratic rulers redundant.
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak had to go first – and he was therefore the only Arab ruler whom the US president told bluntly to leave, unlike Muammar Qaddafi or even Bashar Assad – very simply because Egypt is the center of the many-branched Muslim Brotherhood's and its Shura Council.
More than any other Middle East party or organization, the Brotherhood holds powerful levers of influence in Libya, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian arena and even in Saudi Arabia through its presence in national religious institutions and broad membership. It is therefore suppressed by all those regimes as it was in Egypt.
Mubarak's fellow Arab rulers watched and noted how quickly and ruthlessly Obama disposed of him and mustered all their resources to defeat the US-backed revolts against their regimes before they too were tossed on the rubbish heap.
Saudi King Abdullah fought back with a divorce from Washington. He is bitterly hostile to the Obama administration – not just over Mubarak's humiliating downfall, but because he believes that a US-Muslim Brotherhood pact would threaten the royal House of Saud by engulfing the clerical institutions which give the throne its legitimacy.
Libya's Qaddafi tried to save himself by pointing to his common cause with the US against a rebellion penetrated by Al Qaeda and other Muslim extremists. When he realized that Washington did not share his view and favored the Muslim elements, he decided to fight back against the rebellion and defy their NATO backers.
Syria's Bashar Assad, who represents a secular regime and creed, has resorted to tanks, artillery and live bullets for a ferocious crackdown to end what he regards as the continuation of the Muslim Brotherhood-led challenge to the Alawite Assad family rule launched first against his father 19 years ago.
Another piece of the Obama game plan was put in place in Cairo Wednesday, May 4, with the inking of the Palestinian unity pact by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas for Fatah and Khaled Meshaal for Hamas.
After Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Abbas that the Palestinians must choose between peace and Hamas, Abbas is reported by debkafile's Cairo sources as privately asking why the Israelis complained to him. They should complain to Obama, he said. Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood branches. "I am only acting out his guidelines by helping the Brotherhood's integration in Middle East government."
The US president has taken certain steps to get his plan in motion. It will be far from plain sailing. In Israel and in some Western capitals, the military junta which has succeeded Hosni Mubarak in Cairo is not expected to tamely open the door to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian generals have meanwhile taken the lead in steering Palestinian moves in the hope of focusing the Muslim Brotherhood's attention on the Palestinian issue rather than its drive for power. This device worked for Gemal Abdul Nasser in the 60s and 70s.
But sooner or later, the Brotherhood and Washington will realize that the military rulers fully intend to hold onto power. Instead of standing aside for a Brotherhood presidential candidate, they will run one of their own. President Obama will then be confronted with a hard decision.
Sensing the supportive winds blowing in from Washington, Muslim activists attacked a Coptic Christian church in Cairo Saturday, May 7, sparking a violent sectarian clash that raged through Sunday night leaving more than 20 dead and raising fears of a Muslim power grab.
With the White House busy juggling the balls of its primary Middle East policy, there is not much Israel can do. Therefore, Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting with Obama on May 21and his speech to the joint Houses of Congress during his Washington visit are not expected to yield momentous changes.
There is not much point in his unveiling any new peace proposal as long as the Palestinians are stuck betwixt and between their next moves, or trying to warn Obama against a US-Muslim Brotherhood rapprochement. While a Brotherhood takeover in neighboring Arab countries, however gradual, would pose a direct threat to Israeli security, Obama in the full flush of success of his initial steps will not be receptive to Israel's arguments.