After decades where Arab politicians kept the truth of their constructive relations with
Israel hidden from their publics and stoked anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment for domestic purposes, it is no wonder that Israel remains the focus of anger across the Middle East, even after
the Arab spring turned attention elsewhere.
Last night in Cairo anti-Israeli protests went further than anything seen before, as frustrations with the slowness of the democratic transition and misperceptions about the Egypt-Israeli
relationship led demonstrators to attack and torch the Israeli embassy.
There will be those who see in Cairo proof that the Arab Spring will unleash nothing but turmoil and conflict. I think it is too early to tell. The Egyptian military has stoked a mood of
hypernationalism, in part to build its own credibility, and now are facing the unintended but predictable consequences of their strategy. Ultimately, Egypt cannot afford a war with Israel and so
will work to limit any escalation. Once Egyptian elections begin, the focus will turn elsewhere.
But that will be scant comfort for Israel, especially in the run-up to the UN vote on Palestine’s status at the world body. An occasionally violent Cold Peace with both Egypt and Turkey is a
nightmare for Israel’s government. To address this many in the West thinks Israel should seek peace. But there is little domestic pressure, or coalition logic, behind such a move. It also goes
against Israel’s reading of the Arab Spring. Many Israeli politicians think the map of the Middle East is about to be fundamentally re-shaped, with old states disappearing. Better wait, they think,
than sue for peace with politicians and states whose days may be numbered. The result will be a tense a period in Israel-Arab relations.