Arab Spring May Benefit Israel

By Jonathan Schanzer
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Finally, there's Libya. Muammar Gaddafi once patronized Palestinian terrorists who attacked Israel. But that was decades ago. The greatest Libyan threat to Israel now comes from the many weapons that went missing in the war that raged throughout 2011, which are allegedly pouring into Gaza with the help of Beduin in the Sinai Peninsula. But the means for those weapons to arrive in Gaza have not changed. The Israelis will need to continue to deny these weapons entry via smuggling routes and tunnels.

A better-armed Hamas is worrisome, but Hamas is a train wreck. In addition to the financial hardships owing to international sanctions against Iran (the group's primary patron), the ongoing carnage in Syria has forced its external leaders to flee Damascus. It's unclear that any other Arab state will bear the burden of harboring the group, given the expected fallout with Washington.

Notably, Hamas appears to be wooing Jordan. This is obviously cause for concern in Israel, which made peace with the Hashemite Kingdom. In 1999, King Hussein of Jordan threw Hamas out of the country, but his son Abdullah is now mending fences with the group in hopes of wooing the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood into a political partnership.

But, he too, will likely deny Hamas safe haven. He wants to shore up his rule, but cannot threaten his alliance with Washington. If Abdullah fell, that would mean trouble for Israel. But that's an unlikely scenario for the near term.

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So far, the greatest question mark of the Arab Spring is the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has interpreted the protests as a green light to spurn Jerusalem and Washington to pursue recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Abbas reportedly intends to continue this campaign in 2012, challenging the Israelis in international legal fora and beyond. With no discernible peace parameters in place, the Palestinian position has become something of a wild card for Israel.

But for the time being, the Palestinians are unlikely to launch another intifada. Indeed, while violent groups may attempt more attacks against Israel on an ad hoc basis, Palestinians leaders in the West Bank quietly cede that they are still regrouping after an exhausting round of fighting with the Israelis during the second intifada (2000-2005).

Of course, the sands shift daily. Israeli security analysts must struggle to make sense of the ongoing instability. As they do, they continue to churn out new worst-case scenarios on a daily or weekly basis.

Here's the best of the bad news: the Arab protests amount to a much-needed reminder to the Israelis that their region is filled with Islamists, and that paying off dictators cannot solve Israel's problems in the long term.

But here's real bad news: the Arab protests are a distraction from the threat of a nuclear Iran. The regime in Tehran continues to inch closer to the nuclear threshold, but the Israeli response is still fuzzy. Will the Israelis neutralize it with force? Has the Obama administration given them a green light? Judging from the heated debate inside Israel, and the outward disagreements with Washington, Israel's way forward is far from settled.

The Arab Spring may feel like a harsh winter, but the real winds of war continue to blow farther east.

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The writer is a former terrorism analyst at the U.S. Treasury and now serves as vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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