Arab Spring May Benefit Israel

By Jonathan Schanzer

Everyone knows that if you ask three Israelis what they think, you'll get 10 opinions. Yet on a recent trip to Israel, I heard everyone from government officials to academics and cab drivers deliver the same refrain: "What Arab Spring? This is the Arab Winter."

We appear to be witnessing the analytical equivalent of a lunar eclipse in Israel: a rare moment of groupthink.

Of course, Israelis historically have reason to worry about the manifold threats in their neighborhood. And now, with spreading instability resulting from a contagion of protests, the hydra of anti-Israel populism and Islamism threatens to undo years of Israeli diplomatic efforts to ensure their country's place among the Arab states.

To be sure, the Great Arab Revolt could still produce regimes that threaten Israel. But it hasn't yet.

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In Tunisia, where the whole thing started, Zine al- Abedine Ben Ali was no friend of Israel. In the 1980s, he hosted the PLO, and apart from a brief thaw in the Oslo years, showed no warmth toward the Jewish state. Expect the same now. If the Israelis can ignore the unsettling Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric coming from the Nahda party, they will recognize that Tunisia may be unfriendly, but it remains a weak Parisian exurb that poses no threat to the Jewish state.

Egypt is a potentially bigger problem. After all, the Israelis have relied on Cairo to keep the peace on their southern border, if not the entire region. As the saying goes, "If Egypt goes to war, the Middle East goes with it."

But the chances of war with the new Egypt are currently low. Its economy is in the toilet, with foreign investors spooked and the corrupt patronage network that Mubarak created on the verge of collapse. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood is as powerful as the recent polls suggest, it is increasingly apparent that the real struggle for control of Egypt is between the military and the internal security apparatus.

Both actors rely heavily on US assistance, and neither will want to jeopardize it. So, unless the Islamists manage to purge them altogether (unlikely), Israeli interests for the time being appear safe.

Yemen is a basket case. Analysts say it could become a hotbed for terrorism. Newsflash: it is already. Of course, it could get worse, but more for America than for Israel. Underwear bombers and printer cartridges full of explosives haven't been heading for Jerusalem, have they?

In Syria, regime change could pose a challenge to Israel. But could Bashar Assad's successor really be worse? Though Israel's northern border has remained quiet since the October 1973 war, the Syrians have been a strong ally to Iran and spilled plenty of Israeli blood by proxy, through Hezbollah and Hamas. In many ways, the fall of Assad would likely be a good thing.

Of course, Islamists could inherit Syria, but they would have little room to maneuver against Israel. After nearly a year of unrest, Syria is exhausted and impoverished, and Israel has a far superior military. For now, Israel must ensure that, amid the chaos, Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles do not fall into the wrong hands.

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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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