Egypt’s change is Iran’s checkmate
Sitting in my apartment in the affluent yet hip neighborhood of The Old North in Tel Aviv, which has a vibe similar to SoHo in downtown Manhattan more so than the Middle East, it’s a bit difficult to conceptualize the fact that the enemies of Israel are now officially at the gates.
A headline in the English language edition of Russia’s online daily ‘Ria Novosti’ reads “Muslim Brotherhood wants to end Egypt-Israeli peace deal”. The only shocking aspect of this headline is how soon it came. In lieu of the overtures given by the soon to be Egyptian government, which were those of non-violence, anyone privy to the track record of this organization would automatically deem these overtures to be outright lies. Their track record includes: during WWII, being closely allied with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni as well as the Nazi regime, and more recently, spawning Hamas.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions are obvious, but not so obvious are the intentions of former IAEA head and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. At first glance, having acquired a master’s degree in Geneva’s IHEID and a doctorate at NYU, both in international law, ElBaradei would certainly make for a palatable successor to Mubarak. But his dealings with the Iranians during the time of the inspections of their nuclear facilities, paint an entirely differently picture of him and do not bode well for the future of Egypt-Israel relations. Furthermore, there is outright implication that Iran may have had a hand in the current upheaval in Egypt, via ElBaradei. On September 6th, 2010, the Egyptian newspaper Al Youm Al Sabeh reported: “In a communication to the Attorney General of Egypt, Dr. Yasser Najib Abdel Mabboud has accused Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei…of receiving funds exceeding $7 million from Iran’s leadership as support for ‘political reform in Egypt’…a meeting between an Arab businessman, who is said to be close to El Baradei and who has only been identified by the initials A. E. and an Iranian official, took place in a hotel in Bucharest, Romania…reportedly the Iranian envoy told the businessman to convey to ElBaradei that he has Iran’s complete support.”
So there you have it folks. Iran’s chess configuration is now complete. Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas in Gaza. Muslim Brotherhood with the help of ElBaradei in Egypt, and soon to be in: Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, and Sudan, where all have their own versions of “Day of Rage” demonstrations scheduled for various dates in February. Furthermore, the impending draw-down of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, coupled with Iran’s influence there, can potentially create a very powerful Shiite triumvirate with Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
One would think that the presence of two all-encompassing entities, one being Shia and the other Sunni, would have all the makings of a Muslim civil war in the region. But as the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or to be region-specific “we all hate Israel more than we hate each other”.
The irony in all of this is that Saudi Arabia may well be the lone, even if inadvertent, buffer for Israel; a country where young Saudi’s enthusiastically endorse the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt but have no designs on doing the same with their own regime, mainly because of King Abdullah’s popularity. “What is happening in Egypt has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia,” says Muhammad Al-Asmari, 19, a student in Jeddah. “Mubarak has done absolutely nothing for Egypt in three decades. You can’t say the same for Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has done a lot for us.” Unlike Egypt, whose oil wealth is estimated to be roughly $206 billion, Saudi Arabia’s roughly $24 trillion (by today’s prices) enables them to build schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provide social services that Egypt cannot.
These developments undoubtedly raise some questions. Now that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been put on-hold indefinitely, if not completely obliterated, what role will the U.S. now play in relation to Israel? Will Russia and Europe begin to more actively handle the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in their midst? And lastly, will Israel now consider acting unilaterally against Iran before this regional re-alignment is complete?
While many Israeli citizens have been asking these and other questions over the last week or so, the more pressing issue as a result of the chaos in Egypt has become the influx of yet more Sudanese refugees, a predominantly Muslim group which has brought an increase in violent crime in the last few years to places such as Eilat and the southern part of Tel Aviv.
On a more personal note, I see these unfortunates every day before getting on the bus to go home from work, and seeing them serves as a reminder that I do in fact live in the Middle East, not in SoHo. Moreover, even though there is no war at the moment, we will still be feeling the effects of the dominoes falling in the coming months.
Correction: Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth is 265 billion barrels which translates to roughly $24 trillion.