Israel is in a right state over Egypt’s incipient revolution. Israeli politicians talk
openly about the threat from an Islamist takeover, the greatness of Hosni Mubarak, and have even taken to sneer at the West’s hopefulness. Now that President Mubarak has announced he will leave,
the Israeli leadership will be looking on in horror.
They are right to be concerned. The beleaguered Jewish state has already lost one regional ally in Turkey and does not relish the prospect of losing Egypt too. That would leave only Jordan, a
country whose monarchy may be the next casualty of the pro-democracy movement sweeping the region.
But it is not just a matter of numbers. The "cold peace" with Egypt was the most important strategic alliance Israel had in the Middle East. It provided Israel the chance to concentrate
its forces on the northern front and around the settlements. In addition, the alliance with Egypt gave Israel a "peace dividend", which benefited the economy. More recently, Israel and
Egypt have been united in fear over Iran’s rise and concern over the waning of US power.
It is still unclear what will follow President Mubarak and when, but Israel will be prudent to contemplate a number of changes. Militarily, it will have to re-assess its southern flank without
provocatively re-arming. Depending on the nature of the post-Mubarak regime, Israel may even have to rethink its military strategy, restructure its combat forces – building a bigger army – which
would divert billions of shekels away from social and economic programmes.
Diplomatically, Israel should consider seeking out new allies and decide what concessions it is willing to offer in return. A rapprochement with Syria would be logical but costly – and possibly
impossible. President Bashir Assad seems to think Egypt’s Israel policy in part caused the revolution – and will not make the same mistake. The better option may be to restore close links with
Turkey. But that will necessitate a volte-face on the Gaza flotilla raid – which will be very difficult for the Netanyahu government. It is difficult to see what else Israel can offer Turkey.
Then there is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The notion of a threat to the peace with Egypt may reduce the Netanyahu government’s readiness to take risks for peace. But the military will
push for concessions somewhere – facing a threat in the north (Hezbollah), south (Egypt), over the horizon (Iran) and in Occupied Territories (Hamas) is at least one and possibly two fronts too
many for the Israeli Defence Forces – even with increased military investment. And some kind of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track may, in a post-Mubarak world, paradoxically be the
easiest. But whether Benjamin Netanyahu, a master tactician but strategic fumbler, will rise to the challenge remains to be seen.