Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has described his country as “a villa in the middle of a jungle”.
But Barak’s “jungle” has become increasingly dangerous. What happens to the villa when a wind of change sweeps through? What can be made of Israel’s reaction to the Arab unrest, which has destabilised both a tepid friend (Egypt) and a bitter enemy (Syria)?
Security has emerged as a fundamental theme in the Israeli response to Arab unrest. The Israeli leadership has overlooked the popular nature of these revolutions to argue that the fall of regimes in North Africa and (potentially) the Middle East is actually bad news for Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu quickly established a connection between the spread of regional unrest and the Palestinian conflict, arguing that Israel is as insecure as it has ever has been. The new regional reality was therefore exploited to motivate future Israeli intransigence vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Islam became the preferred lens through which to analyse the situations in Egypt and Syria. The election of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt and the possibility of a radical regime in post-Assad Syria have become part of the same narrative: an Arab Spring equates to a Salafi winter.
It seems a bit premature to associate post-revolutionary transitions in the Middle East with the emergence of fundamentalist regimes throughout the region. Nevertheless, a few questions have to be asked about the impact that regime change in Cairo and Damascus might have on Israeli security.
Israel’s security concerns about post-Mubarak Egypt largely turn on the 1979 peace treaty. The religious disposition of the Morsi administration may well lead to the cancellation of the treaty and a deterioration of ties with its southern neighbour.
The Egyptian government’s mild response to the sabotage attempts at the Arab Gas pipeline and the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo are the most visible indications of tolerance of anti-Israeli action.