If there is anything that can be said about the crisis in Egypt—which is reverberating throughout the Middle East—it is that it is ultimately open to multiple interpretations. Any “expert” who purports to give you “the last word” on the topic is deceiving you and perhaps himself. Geopolitical strategists, armchair pundits and conspiracy theory devotees are competing to tell the world “what’s really happening and why,” but there is no single truth to the matter.
First of all, consider the issue of popular unrest in Egypt. All serious evidence indicates Hosni Mubarak’s regime has sustained itself through force and oppression and, not surprisingly, support from the Egyptian military. In addition, Mubarak has maintained a close relationship with the United States and, thus, with Israel, with which Egypt entered a controversial peace agreement in 1979 that remains in effect today.
These factors have preserved Mubarak’s rule—at least until now.
However, within Egypt, there has long been widespread discontent among a variety of domestic sources, ranging from Islamic fundamentalists in the Muslim Brotherhood to more “Western”-oriented young people to working families struggling to pay food bills.
So while there is breadth and apparent depth to the opposition, the critics of Mubarak are by no means united across a wide range of issues. However, the economic turmoil plaguing Egypt in recent months seems to have been a critical factor in helping spark the rebellion.
In short, to suggest that the Egyptian rebellion was orchestrated solely by the United States and/or Israel would ignore genuine grassroots Egyptian concerns.
Israel and the American supporters of Israel know that many Egyptians of all political stripes and religious persuasions have never been comfortable with the U.S.-Israeli-Egyptian relationship and that an element of Egyptian opposition to the Mubarak regime has been its cozy concert with Israel.
As a consequence of this, many pro-Israeli elements are taking a firm stand against “democracy” in Egypt precisely because they fear a popularly elected regime replacing Mubarak could be hostile to Israel, no matter what the new regime’s religious flavor—if any at all.
Note, too, that one of the leading critics of the Mubarak regime is Nobel Prize-winning former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei. Supporters of Israel consider ElBaradei to be problematic because he was a critic of the Bush administration’s campaign against Saddam Hussein of Iraq, raising questions about Bush claims that Saddam was engaged in building nuclear weapons. Likewise, ElBaradei has stood in the way of Israeli and American efforts to provoke a confrontation with Iran over its efforts to engage in nuclear development.
However, there are more than a few observers who perceive ElBaradei as a ubiquitous double-dealer whose agenda is uncertain In the meantime, despite all of this, it is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that Israel could stand to benefit from turmoil in Egypt. The average observer might find this difficult to understand.
While most rational people would assume that Israel would prefer to have neighboring states that are stable, successful participants in the region, this is not necessarily the case.
In fact, a carefully crafted “think piece” entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s,” featured in the February 1982 edition of the World Zionist Organization’s Jerusalem-based publication Kivunim: A Journal for Judaism and Zionism, candidly put forth an Israeli strategy to wreak havoc in the Arab world, dividing the Arab states from within. The author was Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with close ties to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The program—which amounted to “balkanizing” the various Arab republics, splitting them into religious enclaves in which, for example, Shiite Muslims or otherwise Sunni Muslims would predominate—was an agenda
that Israeli dissident Israel Shahak said, quite simply, was designed “to make an imperial Israel into a world power,” by disrupting the Arab states and thereby setting the stage for Israeli dominance in the Mideast.
The formula was founded on the idea of creating chaos among Israel’s Arab neighbors, hardly a policy any decent, well-meaning neighbor could be credited for fostering. In fact, the current-day political and religious divisions and devastation in Iraq—the consequence of the American invasion of Iraq demanded by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington—mirrors precisely what the Zionist position paper laid forth as the ideal state of affairs for Iraq, from an Israeli point of view, that is.
But where does Egypt fit into all of this? Reflecting on the Zionist strategy paper, Ralph Schoenman—an eminent American Jewish critic of Zionism—writing in 1988 in his book, The Hidden History of Zionism, pointedly noted the paper’s intent of “double-crossing Mubarak” and emphasized that the Yinon paper hoped for “the downfall and dissolution of Egypt,” despite the 1979 Camp David peace agreement.
This is geopolitics at its best—or worst—and demonstrates the kind of gambles Israel has historically been willing to take.
After all, Israel helped subsidize and nurture the fledgling Hamas faction within the Palestinian statehood movement, as a means to counter and undermine the secular Fatah faction led by senior Palestinian statesman Yassir Arafat. But Hamas got out of control, grew in popularity, and now stands as one of Israel’s chief rivals.
Such gamesmanship by Israel is part of a philosophy known as “catastrophic Zionism,” a term used almost exclusively by Israeli and Jewish writers.
The theme of “catastrophic Zionism,” sometimes called “war Zionism,” suggests that Israel—as a state— relies on crisis and the potential of war with its neighbors as a foundation of its very existence. This has actually been the belief of many hard-line “right wing” elements going back to the earliest days of Israel.
In short, there are many Zionists who believe such crisis is vital—fundamental—to Israel’s survival. And for this reason, the believers in “catastrophic Zionism” will never lend their support to any policy, domestic or international, that could lead to a final solution of the conflict between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors.
In actual fact, this notion—that peace could be dangerous to the survival of Israel—is a governing concept in the minds of many Israelis and their supporters worldwide.
A journalist specializing in media critique, Michael Collins Piper is the author of The High Priests of War, The New Jerusalem, Dirty Secrets, The Judas Goats, The Golem, Target Traficant and My First Days in the White House