So Israel wasn’t the central source of Arab concern after all?

February 01, 2011

[This dispatch was written and posted on Jan. 30, but because of a computer glitch, is dated Feb. 1 on site.]

* Everyone from Obama to Sarkozy to Cameron (not to mention those so-called human rights groups, expert academics, and virtually the entire world media) got it wrong: the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the main source of concern for the peoples of the Middle East.

* Ha’aretz: Western intelligence in general and Israeli intelligence in particular, did not foresee the scope of change in Egypt, which may require a reorganization of the IDF. Almost all of the Western media analysts and academic experts also got it wrong.

* How Ariel Sharon regarded Egypt as potentially a bigger threat than Iran.

***

This dispatch on the events in Egypt is divided into two for space reasons. The other part can be read here: Mubarak’s regime may prove more brittle than Tunisia’s

 

CONTENTS

1. They were all wrong
2. A pivotal moment in Egypt with potentially enormous international repercussions
3. Most hypocritical statement of the day
4. Egyptian authorities close Al-Jazeera offices
5. “Egypt riots are an intelligence chief’s nightmare” (By Amos Harel, Ha’aretz, Jan. 30, 2011)
6. “Israel fears radical takeover in Egypt” (By Hanan Greenberg, Yediot Ahronot, Jan. 30, 2011)
7. “Egypt according to Sharon” (Editorial, New York Sun, Jan. 29, 2011)
8. “How Arab satellite stations show the unrest in the Arab world” (INN, Jan. 30, 2011)


[Notes below by Tom Gross]

THEY WERE ALL WRONG

They were all agreed. Everyone from U.S. President Barack Obama to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, from France’s President Sarkozy and Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron to the UN Security-Council (not to mention those so-called human rights groups, expert academics, and virtually the entire world media), they have all been saying it for years: the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the main source of concern for the peoples of the Middle East.

Yet the hundreds of thousands of protestors that have taken to the streets in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and elsewhere in the Arab world in recent days have barely mentioned Israel or the Palestinians, if they have mentioned them at all. (This is despite that some Western journalists have desperately tried to find one or two Egyptians to denounce Israel, even though almost everyone they asked wanted to speak about their own Egyptian concerns.)

Despite what the editorials in The New York Times and elsewhere tell us on a predictably regular basis, the tens of millions of oppressed people of Egypt don’t actually seem to care too much whether Jews can live in the Gilo neighborhood of south-western Jerusalem, despite the fact that only last month senior British and American officials insisted this was a matter of paramount concern for the entire Arab world.

There have been no burning of Israeli flags in Cairo in recent days, no cries of “death to Israel,” no signs to “lift the siege” of Gaza.

As Herb Keinon, a leading journalist at The Jerusalem Post, points out: “Let’s imagine that two years ago Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had accepted with open arms Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state on nearly 95 percent of the land, with a land swap for the rest, half of Jerusalem and an international consortium in control of the ‘Holy Basin,’ would Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia not have set himself on fire, would rivers of people not be marching now in Egypt against Mubarak’s autocratic regime?”

This doesn’t mean, of course, that Israel and the Palestinians shouldn’t do their utmost to solve their conflict in a way that brings peace, prosperity and security to both peoples. But let’s stop pretending, once and for all, that the Jewish state is the source of all the ills of the Middle East.

 

A PIVOTAL MOMENT IN EGYPT WITH POTENTIALLY ENORMOUS INTERNATIONAL REPERCUSSIONS

[This was written and posted on January 29 and sent to some members of this list at that time.]

A pivotal moment in Egypt with potentially enormous international repercussions

By Tom Gross

I attach an article below published early this morning on the website of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, giving the Israeli perspective on the unrest in Egypt.

I would add that while most of us support the ideal of liberal democracy in the Arab Middle East, and hope that Egypt could prove to be a beacon in the region, unlike in Tunisia, where Islamists have no significant power base, there is a distinct possibility that any revolution in Egypt (even one that begins with more secular elements) will be taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Just as over the course of many months, the extremists eventually seized control of the Iranian revolution in 1979 (demonstrations against the Shah began in January 1978, he fled in January 1979, but it wasn’t until December 1979 that the Khomeinists consolidated control) and the Russian one in 1917 (the Bolsheviks slaughtered the Mensheviks, as the February revolution gave way to the October one), so this may also prove to be the case in Egypt. I hope that the Obama administration knows its history.

They need only ask some of the Iranian liberals who led the revolution against the Shah in 1979 only to find that many of their anti-regime comrades (both on the theocratic right and the communist left) had no intention whatsoever of installing a genuine democracy in the Shah’s place.

I also hope that the “realists” in Washington and Europe (and their cheerleaders in the Western media) who have consistently argued that the U.S. should end or downgrade its alliance with Israel, might now recognize that Israel may well be the only genuinely stable and reliable ally of the U.S. and the West in the Middle East.

***

Here is a more optimistic view from The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl:

“Mubarak should step down and be replaced by a transitional government, headed by El Baradei and including representatives of all pro-democracy forces. That government could then spend six months to a year rewriting the constitution, allowing political parties to freely organize and preparing for genuinely democratic elections. Given time to establish themselves, secular forces backed by Egypt’s growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections – not the Islamists that Mubarak portrays as the only alternative.”

Diehl also points out that: “The Obama administration often speaks as if it does not recognize the existence of an Arab reform movement. Bush’s frequently articulated argument that political and social liberalization offer the best antidote to Islamic extremism appears absent from this administration’s thinking.”

***

Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti, a leading Salafi-jihadist cleric, has issued a fatwa calling on men to participate in the protests in Egypt in order to bring down the current government. Analysts say that al-Shinqiti’s fatwa shows that Jihadists have high expectations regarding the outcome of the current uprising.

 

MOST HYPOCRITICAL STATEMENT OF THE DAY

The following is a report from Press TV, the Iranian government’s English language channel widely available in Europe:

Iran asks Egypt to meet public demands
January 29, 2011 9:29AM
Press TV

www.presstv.ir/detail/162528.html

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has called on political leaders in Egypt to follow the “rightful demands” of their people.

“Iran expects Egyptian officials to listen to the voice of their Muslim people, respond to their rightful demands and refrain from exerting violence by security forces and police against an Islamic wave of awareness that has spread through the country in form of a popular movement,” Mehmanparast said Saturday.

He further pointed out that Tehran attaches great importance to the fulfillment of public demands in Egypt and added, “Iran regards demonstrations by the Muslim people of this country as a justice-seeking movement in line with their national-religious demands.”

 

EGYPTIAN AUTHORITIES CLOSE AL-JAZEERA OFFICES

Egyptian authorities yesterday closed down Al-Jazeera’s offices in Cairo in protest at the network’s nonstop “live stream” coverage on both TV and the internet of the protests against Mubarak. It canceled the network’s broadcast license and said it was withdrawing accreditation from all its staff in Egypt with immediate effect.

However, Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it would keep covering events, assuring “its audiences in Egypt and across the world that it will continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events unfolding in Egypt.”

Al-Jazeera said yesterday that its live stream on the internet “has been viewed for 26 million minutes in the last 12 hours.”

Last week, following the release of the so-called “Palestine Papers”, a senior Palestinian Authority official announced that Al-Jazeera had “declared war on the Palestinian Authority.”

The network was banned in the West Bank in 2009, a decision that was rescinded shortly after.

Al-Jazeera is banned in Morocco and Kuwait and faces restrictions in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. By contrast, Israel lets Al-Jazeera broadcast with the same freedoms as it does any other media.

(For more on Al-Jazeera, please see the article below titled “How Arab satellite stations show the unrest in the Arab world”.)

***

I attach four articles of interest on the situation, below.

– Tom Gross


FULL ARTICLES

POTENTIALLY MASSIVE NEGATIVE EFFECTS FOR ISRAEL, THE WEST

Egypt riots are an intelligence chief’s nightmare
By Amos Harel
Ha’aretz
January 30, 2011

The events of the last few days in Egypt – apparently the most important regional development since the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal of 1979 – are also an expression of the decision-makers’ nightmare, the planners and intelligence agents in Israel.

While in other countries many are watching with satisfaction at what looks to be possibly the imminent toppling of a regime that denied its citizens their basic rights, the Israeli point of view is completely different.

The collapse of the old regime in Cairo, if it takes place, will have a massive effect, mainly negative, on Israel’s position in the region. In the long run, it could put the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in danger, the largest strategic assets after the support of the United States.

The changes could even lead to changes in the IDF and cast a dark cloud over the economy.

Western intelligence in general and Israeli intelligence in particular did not foresee the scope of change in Egypt (the eventual descriptor “revolution” will apparently have to wait a little longer). Likewise, almost all of the media analysis and academic experts got it wrong.

In the possible scenarios that Israeli intelligence envisioned, they admittedly posited 2011 as a year of possible regime change – with a lot question marks – in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but a popular uprising like this was completely unexpected.

More than this, in his first appearance at a meeting last Wednesday of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the new head of military intelligence Major General Aviv Kochavi said to member of Knesset, “There are currently no doubts about the stability of the regime in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is not organized enough to take over, they haven’t managed to consolidate their efforts in a significant direction.”

If the Mubarak regime is toppled, the quiet coordination of security between Israel and Egypt will quickly be negatively affected. It will affect relations between Cairo’s relationship with the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, it will harm the international forces stationed in Sinai.

It will mean the refusal of Egypt to continue to allow the movement of Israeli ships carrying missiles through the Suez canal, which was permitted for the last two years, according to reports in the foreign press, in order to combat weapons smuggling from Sudan to Gaza. In the long run, Egypt’s already-cold peace treaty with Israel will get even colder.

From the perspective of the IDF, the events are going to demand a complete reorganization. For the last 20 years, the IDF has not included a serious threat from Egypt in its operational plan.

In the last several decades, peace with Cairo has allowed the gradual thinning out of forces, the lowering of maximum age for reserve duty and the diversion of massive amounts of resources to social and economic projects.

The IDF military exercises focused on conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas, at most in collusion with Syria. No one prepared with any seriousness for a scenario in which an Egyptian division would enter Sinai, for example.

If the Egyptian regime falls in the end, a possibility that seemed unbelievable only two or three days ago, the riots could easily spill over to Jordan and threaten the Hashemite regime. On Israel’s two long peaceful borders there will then prevail a completely different reality.

 

ISRAEL FEARS RADICAL TAKEOVER IN EGYPT

Israel fears radical takeover in Egypt
Extremist takeover in Egypt would put Israel in ‘wholly different position,’ security official warns
By Hanan Greenberg
January 29, 2011
Yediot Ahronot / Ynet

A fundamental change of government in Egypt may lead to a “revolution in Israel’s security doctrine,” a defense official said Friday night, as protests against President Hosni Mubarak’s rule continued to intensify.

The security official made it clear that Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt constitutes an important strategic asset, “which enables the IDF to focus on other theaters.” The defense source said that the IDF would have to dedicate major resources in order to devote any attention to the Egyptian front as well.

“It is no secret that the IDF focuses on certain theaters and earmarks most resources to them,” the official said. “The Egyptians are only addressed on the margins. We are holding discussions, including updates relevant to recent years, yet without a doubt Egypt is not considered a theater that requires attention.”

Should a revolution indeed take place in Egypt, the rules of play will not necessarily change at once, the source added. “It won’t mean, heaven forbid, that Egypt would immediately turn into an enemy country, yet our attention would most certainly have to shift.”

ADVANCED EGYPTIAN ARMY A THREAT?

Defense officials are closely monitoring developments in Israel’s southern neighbor, considered the “heart of the Arab world.” The immediate Israeli concern has to do with possible developments on the Egypt-Gaza border, where Egyptian forces have been working intensely as of late to curb weapons smuggling. According to security officials, the riots currently raging across Egypt may have negative implications on its Gaza border.

Another concern voiced within Israel’s defense establishment has to do with Egypt’s advanced army, which includes thousands of tanks, hundreds of fighter jets, and dozens of vessels.

“This is a Western army in every way and it enjoys US aid,” one security official said. “There is no doubt that should we see an extremist regime over there controlling such army, this will place Israel in a wholly different position.”

“There is no doubt that in the coming days, many eyes have to be monitoring Egypt. Later we’ll make all the calculations as to the implications,” the official said.

Earlier, an Israeli minister told Time Magazine that officials in Jerusalem believe President Hosni Mubarak will survive the current upheaval.

The cabinet member, who asked to remain anonymous, characterized recent events as an “earthquake” in the Middle East. His comments were made ahead of Friday’s escalating riots and before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his ministers to refrain from addressing the situation in Egypt.

 

HOW ARIEL SHARON SAW EGYPT AS POTENTIALLY A BIGGER THREAT THAN IRAN

Egypt According to Sharon
Editorial
The New York Sun
January 29, 2011

As the Egyptians mount their challenge to the regime of Hosni Mubarak the man we keep thinking of is Ariel Sharon. He was the guest at the first editorial dinner of The New York Sun, held jointly with the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The date was November 2000, shortly before Mr. Sharon, in an election triumph at the start of the following year, acceded to the prime minister’s office at Jerusalem. At one point, one of the editors asked the general which country in the Middle East, or anywhere else, he considered the most hostile to the Jewish state. Suddenly Mr. Sharon fell silent and so did the rest of the table. We remember thinking to ourselves: Iraq? . . . Iran? . . . Syria? . . . the Sudan? But when the general finally spoke the country he named was Egypt.

Some murmurs of surprise were heard. In theory, after all, Egypt and Israel had been at peace since Camp David. But the man who was about to become prime minister of Israel said that not only was Egypt the most hostile but it was also the most dangerous. It was the most populous Middle East country; it was influential in the Arab world. Egypt had something like 12 divisions in its Army alone, one of the 10 largest air forces in the world, and millions of males of military age. In recent years, it had been armed and trained by America. That worried him. He didn’t belittle the fact that some Egyptians were prepared to gamble on peace. But the gamble had cost President Sadat his life, and the peace had been cold. In the order of battle, the great strategist had his eye on Egypt.

As Egypt is engulfed in flames, we can’t help thinking of Ariel Sharon’s warning. He was prepared to treat with Mr. Mubarak, and did on a number of occasions, but he never had illusions about him. He was well aware of Mr. Mubarak’s machinations against Israel in the United Nations, of his agitation against Israel’s nuclear capacity, of the fact that if Egypt really wanted to stop the arms smuggling into Gaza it would have. At the prospect of Mr. Mubarak’s being toppled, his eyes would have been dry. The Israeli premier was anything but indifferent to the idea of democracy; he was a tribune of the idea that war rarely, if ever, erupts between democratic countries. And as a politician and founder of political parties, he was one of democracy’s most seasoned, even wiliest, practitioners.

All the more skeptical was he of the idea of rushing democracy, all the more aware of how democracy could be taken advantage of. It was an alleged democracy, if a false one, that Hamas manipulated to seize Gaza; it is of democracy that Hezbollah is seeking to take advantage in snuffing out the embers of freedom at Lebanon. Democracy can be defeated from within, as we witnessed in Iran. Mr. Sharon understood the difference between real democracies – America’s, say, or Israel’s, with their free press, honest vote counts, and open ballots – and false ones, like that which returned Mubarak to power in September 2005 with 86% of the vote. “Egyptian Mirage” was the headline we put over our editorial at the time, which characterized the election as a “farce” and warning of what we called “misguided American policy toward Egypt.”

Our sense is that Mr. Sharon enjoyed, even on occasion thrilled to (as this newspaper has), President Bush’s pro-democracy agenda and the kind of rhetoric he unleashed when, say, he sent Secretary Rice to Cairo. He supported the war against Saddam Hussein and the campaign to liberate Iraq. But he was a man without illusions. He would not have stood silent about the murders of Christians in Egypt, a silence our Youssef Ibrahim has been covering; Mr. Sharon would have comprehended those killings as a harbinger of greater trouble. In Egypt today Mr. Sharon would be watching intently for any realignment of forces or movement of Egyptian military units and armor. He’d have had his eye on the Suez Canal, any crossing of which by even small, incremental units – single tanks, say – would have riveted his attention.

For one of the things Ariel Sharon understood is that there is no logic for Egypt to be maintaining a military machine as large as the one it has built up in the past decade and a half, with American money and help. It is not required for intra-Arab struggles. Its only use other than to suppress Egyptians themselves, he would have understood, would be the one it has trained for, an eventual war against the Jewish state with which Cairo has maintained a peace that has been so strangely cold. He would have understood that America’s bargain with Mr. Mubarak failed to extinguish anti-Semitism in Egypt. He understood the implications in the fact that the old hatred has been allowed to infect a press that is controlled by the state. He would have understood above all else that the failure to act in the face of threats in any part of the Middle East invites attack from all sides, including from the colossus on the Nile.

 

THE BATTLE FOR THE AIRWAVES

How Arab satellite stations show the unrest in the Arab world
By David Lev
Israel National News
January 30, 2011

With no fewer than five major areas of unrest/revolutions/regime changes going on in the Arab world, Arab satellite television, one of the mainstays of information dissemination in the Middle East, has been playing a major role in communicating news – or attempting, if not to suppress it, then at least to spin it.

For most Westerners, “satellite TV,” like cable TV, means a mix of entertainment and news stations – mostly entertainment. And with the decline of terrestrial TV in most parts of the world, families and individuals who want to watch television usually take out a subscription to a cable or direct satellite service.

In the Arab world, however, where government control – or at least domination – of the local media is the rule, most householders have a satellite dish, to pick up the hundreds of free-to-air (fta) television stations broadcasting around the Arab world. Many of these stations are sponsored by governments, and make no attempt to present a balanced picture. There are many religious-oriented stations, as one would expect, with both Sunni and Shi’ite stations crowding the TV dial. For religious minorities in overwhelmingly Muslim countries, satellite TV broadcasts are often one of the few links to their religious brethren.

Not only do Arab governments use satellite TV to reach the Arab masses; the United States operates several stations in Arabic and Farsi, and has a whole TV station, Al-Hurra, dedicated to explaining its side of the story in Iraq. Many other countries, including Korea, China, France, Britain, and even Holland have their own satellite stations. Besides foreign, official and religious broadcasts, there are also dozens of independent stations broadcasting news, sports, and entertainment, in Arabic – and there are even a surprisingly large number of stations that broadcast movies and TV series originating in the United States.

With unrest, regime changes, or heavy protests threatening regime changes, taking place in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan, a survey of the fta Arab satellite stations broadcasting on the two main satellites that serve the Middle East (Nilesat and Arabsat) yields what many viewers would expect – along with some interesting surprises – in the way the protests and uprisings are being reported. Here are some examples:

Tunisia: During the first days of Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution,” the country’s broadcasting company, which had been tightly controlled by the government of deposed leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, all but halted broadcasting. Before Ben-Ali’s departure, Tunisia’s national TV (which had three channels) broadcast its usual diet of sports and entertainment shows, as did the country’s private Hannibal TV channel. After Ben-Ali left the country, the national stations went off the air – while Hannibal continued to broadcast, urging Tunisians to recant their decision to overthrow the government. After the revolution, Hannibal TV owner Larbi Nasra was arrested for treason, but was freed several days later when an opposition minister in the new government intervened on his behalf.

All the Tunisian stations are now back on the air, but all the channels – including Hannibal – are broadcasting the same thing, an ongoing “open studio” with newsmakers, “man on the street” interviews, and accounts of the ongoing protests.

Yemen: Yemen’s national TV station acknowledged that there were protests in the country Thursday – pro-government protests, that is. Yemen TV gave extensive coverage to what appeared to be a large group of pro-government demonstrators in Sa’ana, the capital of the country. People carried signs with pictures of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, with slogans on signs that expressed support for him, decorated with a dusty pink insignia – which is apparently the color the government chose as its own, to differentiate it from the sky blue the opposition seems to have chosen to represent them.

If the tens of thousands of Yemenis who attended anti-government protests wanted to see themselves on TV, they would have had to tune in to broadcasts of Aden Live, an opposition station broadcasting from the United Kingdom directed at Yemenis. Here one could see the masses of government opponents demonstrating at several locations around the country, burning pictures of Saleh, and hoisting the opposition flag – which features the Yemen flag’s red, black and white fields, with the addition of a sky blue triangle (but without a red star in that triangle, to differentiate the flag from that of the defunct People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen).

Egypt: The most populous country in the Middle East also has the most diverse array of television broadcasts, ranging from government-run networks to independent news and entertainment channels.

On the government-owned Nilesat network, it was business as usual, as the stations continued to broadcast their usual diet of movies, cooking shows, kids’ programs, and sports matches. The same was true on the government-owned Masr stations, although one of them, Modern Masr, went off the air. The Nile News channel devoted a few minutes at the top of its news hour to the protests, while devoting at least two hours Thursday to showing Israeli troops “persecuting” what appeared to be residents of a refugee camp. The English-language Nile TV station did not mention the protests against the government at all.

One Egyptian station that did break the mold was OTV, which is privately owned by businessman Naguib Sawiris, chairman of the board of Egypt’s largest private employer, Orascom Telecom, the company with the largest market capitalization on the Cairo & Alexandria Stock Exchange. OTV’s news channel broadcast lengthy reports on the protests and held discussions with various officials (not necessarily from the government); the network’s financial featured worried-looking anchors and guests, discussing the freefall in the country’s stock exchange in the wake of the protests.

Besides OTV, Egyptians could watch the protests on pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, which devoted long stretches of time to on-the-spot reports by correspondents, as well as lengthy analyses on the situation.

A number of people in Egypt accused the network of fanning the flames with its broadcasts, and indeed, Al Jazeera, on one of its channels, broadcast footage of the violence, along with Facebook posts from protesters as they were posted on the internet. While protests had calmed by Thursday afternoon, broadcasters – as well as the authorities – were bracing themselves for what many believed would be a stormy Friday in Egypt.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.