Israeli consul general describes uncertainty surrounding events in Egypt

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Israeli expert spoke in Juneau about what the effects of politically tectonic shifts in the Middle East could mean to the country. Akiva Tor, consul general to the Pacific Northwest Region, has spoken on Israeli issues here before, and a very attentive and inquisitive audience reaching beyond Juneau’s Jewish community gathered in Centennial Hall to hear what he had to say.

MICHAEL PENN / JUNEAU EMPIRE
MICHAEL PENN / JUNEAU EMPIRE

Tor’s feeling, speaking on Israel’s perspective on events in Egypt, is one of uncertainty.

“There’s a feeling that the Middle East is on shifting sands,” Tor began.

These shifts come from the interim government Egypt is facing and what the country’s future could mean for its neighbor.

“We view the situation as a period of opportunity but also as a tremendous challenge because the results of some processes will not necessarily deliver governments which will be friendly or moderate to Israel,” he said.

“We don’t know exactly what will happen in Egypt. We wish the Egyptian people well and hope they will develop into a genuine and moderate democracy that will serve as an Israeli interest as well as to the entire global community. Our approach is one of prudence, vigilance and muted optimism because if we can’t control the situation, we might as well be optimistic.”

He said such reservations stem partially from history, as the last time Egypt was in a similar situation with a powerful leader leaving was in 1952, and the new leader had led Egypt into wars against Israel. That historical fact is something he said has guided some if Israel’s emotional reaction.

He said that the central analytical reason Israel has not enunciated a huge enthusiasm for the emergence of another democracy alongside it is that its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan are with the governments, and did not develop deep business ties or relationships. He said they are formal agreements but do not lead to amiability among ambassadors or intellectuals who think it was not right.

He gave an example of Egyptian and Israeli filmmakers or artists that are boycotted in the other countries and, thus, cutting of ideas and exposure.

“So now when something incredible happens and the Egyptian people are empowered we ask ourselves what does it mean for us,” he said.

“When they made peace with Israel, the idea of a comprehensive Middle East war became unthinkable pretty much,” he said.

He said that, at present, the Egyptian government is a military deterrent government and are respecting the peace treaty. He said the treaty is not expected to be broken, either, and there are no operations changes during this interim government.

He added that for the time being Egypt is also maintaining its restrictive policy with the Gaza border.

He said that there are hints of change, however, such as certain security lightening, and the transit of two Iranian warships in the Suez Canal indicates that something has changed.

As for the results of outcomes from Egypt’s recently-approved elections, there is also uncertainly to how the parliament will be divided in the future — which could be good or bad for its neighbor.

He said another important point is the belief that there’s a real problem with the growth of Iranian incidents as a result of the weakening of moderate states during this period. He said it’s now more essential in Israel’s view to keep Iran from achieving nuclear weapons, which he said can be done through strong sanctions and is essential to move forward in this in a timely fashion.

Tor also described differences of perception between America’s response to the situation and others.

“I think that people interpret reality as it is happening according to their history and according their perception of how things happened in the past,” he said.

He described the American experience as that of the tyrant, via King George, being evicted from rule over the colonies and the achievement of the popular will of the people, leading to the introduction of the Constitution and modern democracy. He said, therefore, he thinks there is a sense in the United States that when a tyrant departs then the voice of the people will be heard and something incredible will emerge.

He said that while this is a healthy intuition, it is not necessarily a correct one and there are other perceptions of what will happen in Egypt. He said this view of expectant democracy hasn’t been Israel’s view because the immediacy of the events for them and how the “grand social experiment in the Middle East” creates uncertain strategic implications for Israel as a state.

“So we’re viewing it not as a New York Times columnist but as ‘if it blows up, we’ll feel it’.”

He cited the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon as an example of a recent new event in democracy, saying the idea of its factions coming together and forming democratic processes had previously been thought of as unrealistic.

Another example included Israel’s movement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. “It was the beginning of the emergence of Palestinian state,” Tor said.

He said that since 2007, there have been situations of elections leading to a dictatorship. “One which is hostile to us as an immediate neighbor, which does not accept our legitimacy and who we had to invade in 2009 to stop rocket fire on our cities,” he said. “So this is an experience of democratic processes which from our perspective would not play out well and which are difficult for us to live with. Live with it, we do, but not with great happiness.”

This only adds to the anxiety surrounding Egypt’s future.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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