It is understandable that Israeli leaders and citizens alike are watching the fast-moving events in Egypt — and possible reverberations in Jordan — with great trepidation.
Peace with Egypt, formalized in 1979, has been anything but warm, but it has been real and enduring, and it has allowed Israel to focus its defenses on other threats, including Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism and the terrifying prospect of a nuclear Iran.
President Hosni Mubarak, while hardly a Zionist, has worked with Israel in trying to limit arms smuggling into Gaza and fitfully supported U.S. peace efforts. Now that he has apparently been forced from power, there’s little question that any successor with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent of the terrorist group Hamas, would be a major setback for Israel.
That said, it is critically important for Israeli leaders and their friends here to temper their rhetoric and keep their options open.
As this is being written, it is far from clear what will replace the Mubarak regime. There are many frightening scenarios — but Israel’s security and U.S. interests across the region will depend to a great extent on finding ways to work with whatever successor emerges.
The situation is all the more difficult because Israel has almost no ability to impact events in what appears to be a genuine popular uprising against a corrupt regime that has thwarted every effort at democratic reform for three decades. That is all the more reason to refrain from harsh rhetoric and sweeping statements in a time of enormous flux and uncertainty.
A priority for the Obama administration must be finding ways to preserve the Israeli-Egyptian peace. It must acknowledge the very legitimate grievances and aspirations of the throngs of the protesters without reinforcing the radicals who would exploit them to advance their own harsh agendas.
Like its predecessors, the Obama administration has often talked the talk about Egyptian democracy but not walked the walk. That said, blaming this administration alone for a situation decades in the making smacks of raw partisanship and can only be a distraction from the tough choices that policy makers here will need to make in the coming days.
We are not suggesting taking sides in the battles raging in Egypt; we are suggesting the need for cautious, thoughtful policy and for a pragmatic realization that we must find ways to work with Mubarak’s successor — whomever that may be. Precipitous statements and ill-considered policies today can make that critical adjustment to this week’s dramatic events even more difficult.