Egypt’s coup: a respite for Israel (for now)
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The three weeks which precede the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av (marked this year beginning on the evening of July 15) has been an annual period to mourn a series of tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people. From the destruction of both the Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE to the murder of approximately 10,000 Jews during the first month of the first Crusade in 1095 to the expulsion of the Jews from Britain in 1290 to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 to the beginning of World War I in 1914 — Jews have always viewed the arrival of these days with great trepidation.
Jewish law advises against the completion of any commercial transaction during this period, during which various mourning customs are observed. Many Jews even do not take summer vacations until after Tisha B’Av.
In looking at the events which occurred last week in Egypt, some Israelis do not want to make any judgment about the implications of the coup until after Tisha B’Av, for fear that nothing that happens this time of the year is “good for the Jews.”
The 2012 election of Mohammed Morsi has been a rare sign of progress: a democratically elected leader in the Arab world. But those initial hopes were the first to fall. There are two quick responses to this disappointment. First, democratic elections do not create a democratic regime, and Morsi certainly did not appear to be truly interested in following democratic principles. During his 12 months in power he appeared to be developing his own form of authoritarian rule, based on Islamic fundamentalism.
Second, the demise of this democratic experiment raises, once again, a question few in the West truly want to address: Are there leaders in the Muslim world who truly prepared to embrace democratic values and ideals?
For the Obama administration, the ouster of the Morsi government was troubling only to the idealists. As for the rest, U.S. relations with Morsi had been stressful. Except for his successful intercession in helping end the Hamas-Israeli confrontation in Gaza last year, most diplomats did not sense a positive relationship developing between Washington and the Brotherhood. Many, including the U.S. military, did not know where the Morsi government was headed, but given Egypt’s extensive military arsenal and U.S. aid, possible mischief appeared to be ever-present.
This, of course, opens the question of what effect the coup will have on Israel, peace with Egypt, safe and secure borders, Hamas, etc. Israel’s relationship with the Egyptian military — once again in control in Egypt — had been positive during most of the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule. It had served the mutual interest of both sides to minimize disruption and hostility in the Sinai, undermine growing radical movements, and restrict and control the Gaza smuggling operation. The Egyptian military understood that the relationship between Hamas and Iran would ultimately not benefit Egypt, and thus they too sought to keep the Hamas insurgents at bay. While Morsi’s ouster bodes ill for a new democratic direction, it adds stability along the Israel-Egypt border.
The failure of a militant Islamic movement to take hold in a neighboring country gives Israel at least some transitory solace. The signals from Syria and from Hizbullah in Lebanon present Israel and the West with more ominous signs of the spread of Al Qaida influence. Similarly, Turkey’s religious posture is also being threatened by more militant Islamic forces. Consequently, for Israel, the coup in Egypt is somewhat stabilizing; for Hamas, it is hardly encouraging.
Israel has a difficult series of internal battles before the Knesset adjourns for its summer recess. Facing budgetary crises, haredi military conscription, and a tawdry chief rabbi election, Israel could use a bit of stability on at least one of its diplomatic and military fronts. Nevertheless, the Tisha B’Av period is always a time of anxiety. Once it is passed, perhaps recent events will offer a more optimistic picture.