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Situation Assessment 21 November, 2011

Israel and the Islamist scarecrow after the Arab revolts

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Saleh al-Naami

Al-Naami is a Palestinian refugee currently – and temporarily – residing in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central West Bank. He holds a Master’s degree in policy studies specializing in Israeli Studies from Jerusalem University and is currently working on his doctoral thesis. At the moment he is a lecturer in the Economics and Political Science Department at the Islamic University in Gaza. He is also a researcher and journalist specializing in Israeli affairs and its various junctions. He is also an affiliated researcher with the al-Jazeera Research Center in Doha the al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center in Dubai the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in Amman and the Researchers’ Center in Beirut. Al-Naami is the author of The Army and the Press in Israel published by Dar ash-Shuruq in Cairo in 2005 and Israel: Between Militarism Religion and Corruption published by Dar al-Kitab al-Jamii al-Ain UAE. He has also published several studies in publications including “Wajhat Nadhar” (Cairo) “al-Bayan” (Riyadh) “Dirasat Sharq Awsatiyya” (Amman) “Dirasat Falastiniyya” (Ramallah). He also works as a correspondent for the Cairo-based English-language publication al-Ahram Weekly. Since 1999 he has also been the Palestinian territories correspondent for the London-based pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. He has published hundreds of articles on Israel and its relations with the Arab Palestinian and international contexts. He has also translated the work of Israeli writers from Hebrew into Arabic. He has also appeared in documentary films on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel's ruling establishment and its affiliated elites have consistently questioned the nature of revolutions in the Arab world and cautioned the world against their consequences, claiming that they will bring Islamist movements to power.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised the specter of experiences to which the West has been particularly sensitive, especially that of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which began as a movement protesting the shah's regime and ended up with the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Netanyahu has not missed the opportunity to warn that Egypt will share a similar destiny if Islamists come to power as a result of the revolution.

Not only has he cautioned of the risks of the Islamists' ascent to power, but has also has tried to give the impression that he is keen on the emergence of a rival "democratic" force. He has called for an international fund to support the opponents of Islamists - i.e. "those with liberal views", as per his description -across the Arab world, comparing his idea to the Marshall Plan implemented by the United States following World War II in support of Western Europe. Netanyahu even sent his assistant national security adviser, Eran Lerman, to the United States to discuss this proposal with leaders in Congress.

In an attempt to demonize the democratic change in the Arab world and mobilize the world against it, Israeli elites have followed suit. They have been keen on recalling the Iran and Hamas cases and suggesting that the world will see a repeat of the two experiences. Some have considered what happened in Egypt a "coup not a revolution," predicting that the  event will result in the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power, establishing a "Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran". They have argued that there is no inclination toward democratic change and freedoms, in Egypt, that, in fact, the opposite is true.

Yossi Beilin has warned that the world's acceptance of the transfer of power to Islamists in the wake of the Arab revolutions is "irresponsible", claiming that President Barack Obama has made the same "mistake" of President Jimmy Carter, who "forsook" the shah, leading not only to the fall of imperial rule in Tehran, but also to a radical change in the entire region.

Eitan Haber has alleged that the revolution in Egypt is a milestone "marking Egypt's break-up with secularism and Westernization", expecting "the pictures to come from Egypt to match those coming from Iran, which has been orchestrating the events from the backstage, to achieve one goal: ruining the atmosphere of peace and reconciliation with Israel."

Elyakim Haetzni, a settlement leader in the West Bank, has argued that the Islamists' "inevitable" rise to power thanks to Arab revolutions will result in significant support for Hamas, thereby posing a strategic threat to Israel. He considers that such a rise to power would limit Israel's ability to act against Hamas, given what he says is the strong possibility that the new regime in Egypt would provide the movement with military and logistic equipment capable of limiting Israel's ability to use force.

Furthermore, he did not rule out the possibility that an Islamist-ruled Egypt would stand behind military operations along the border with Israel.

Despite such public positions that attempt to mobilize the world against Arab revolutions by manipulating the Islamist scarecrow, we find behind closed doors, Israeli officials voice satisfaction with Hamas's control of the Gaza Strip, though publicly urging the overthrow of its rule.

The contradictions of Israeli officials, in public vis-à-vis behind closed doors, on the nature of the experiences of Islamist movements, calls for more to be learned about Israel's real motives in launching its campaign to strip the Arab revolution of international legitimacy, under the pretext of the ascent of Islamist regimes.

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