Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, Jan 31 he feared Egypt could end up with a radical Islamic regime as in Iran that would "grind human rights to dust" and go against the interests all the peoples of the region share for peace and stability. "Our main care is to preserve the peace," he stressed in his first comment on the Egyptian crisis at a joint conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Israeli prime minister's words were widely interpreted as support for President Hosni Murakak, for three decades faithful defender of peace with Israel, rather than a reference to the tidal changes overtaking Egypt and potentially other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
He also made the gesture of allowing the first Egyptian 800 troops to enter Sinai since the military since the 1979 peace treaty demilitarized Sinai – as first disclosed by debkafile.
The troops arrived Monday, Jan. 31, to back up Egyptian special police units under attack from Hamas intruders from the Gaza Strip, who were acting on orders from the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
The Israeli prime minister repeated the same old mistake of leaning on the Egyptian military, in the person of the former intelligence minister – now Vice President – Omar Suleiman to sort out the Hamas threat from the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
Equally true to form, Hamas hit back Monday night by shooting three long-range Grad rockets against the Negev towns of Netivot and Ofakim, damaging property and leaving a number of shock victims.
For helping the dying regime, Hamas' parent, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, punished Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu's first two reactions to events in Egypt were knee-jerk gestures to old friends in Cairo rather than part of a far-sighted, clear-eyed assessment of the fast-moving Egyptian epic.
They were misplaced on five counts:
1. Mubarak may not return the favor. If he believes he can survive the raging popular demand for his removal by throwing Egypt's peace treaty with Israel to the winds, he will not think twice. He will dump Israel just as the United States dumped him when the streets of Egypt filled with protesters.
2. Is Netanyahu counting on the sustainability of Israel's close military and intelligence ties with new Vice President? Apparently, he is – in which case he is backing Suleiman to come out on top of the standoff between Mubarak, the army and the protesters.
Is Suleiman a peace asset? The truth is for that for a decade, the Egyptian general's deep involvement in the Israel-Palestinian dispute has led Jerusalem astray time and again, especially with regard to Hamas, for which Israel is paying and will continue to pay a heavy price.
Furthermore, while Suleiman is well liked in Jerusalem, he is despised at home almost as much as the president. And when Mubarak finally falls, he too will prove to be a broken reed.
3. Any assistance the Netanyahu government may render the Mubarak regime – like opening the 1979 peace treaty to let troops into Sinai – is wasted as far as helping to stabilize the situation in Egypt is concerned. It may be used as dangerous precedent in the hands of a still unknown future regime.
4. The Brotherhood is not a radical bogeyman on a par with Iran's ayatollahs as depicted by Netanyahu. Egypt's society is diverse enough to withstand a despotic theocracy as the first six days of the popular protests demonstrated.
If anyone can keep the Muslim Brotherhood in its place, albeit with a role in government alongside other opposition factions, it is the army. According to our sources, a military takeover of government is in the making, planned for an interim stage until a new political order can legitimately take charge. Monday, the army announced it would not use force against the March of Millions called for Tuesday and considered the people's demands legitimate.
So what did the Israeli prime minister have to gain by being almost the only world leader to take a stand against the popular uprising in Egypt and putting the Muslim faction in the limelight?
5. His slowness in formulating a strategic policy more in tune with the momentous changes overtaking Egypt and the region may be due to the failure of Israeli intelligence and his advisers to correctly diagnose the ferment in Egypt. They were taken by surprise when it boiled over.
It may also be due to his innate tendency to respond to critical situations by doing nothing, as in the cases of the Iranian-backed Hizballah coup in Lebanon and Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb. In standing out against change in Egypt, Netanyahu has broken ranks with the United States and Europe, failed to address the inevitable transition of government, and turned Israel's back on the Egyptian people's universally championed fight for democratic reforms.
Even Mubarak cannot avoid adapting to the changes landing on his head. Monday night, he asked Suleiman to start a dialogue with opposition leaders for "constitutional change." When that change comes, where will Israel stand?