As tumultuous activities take place in the Arab world, Israel looks at its Arab neighbors with growing skepticism. Relations between Jewish state and Arab nations have hardly been friendly. History is full with evidence of bitter enmity between them. Such animosities are linked to the very existence of Israel. Since Israel’s birth in 1948 the territory it has occupied remains contestable especially in the Palestinian land. Israel has annexed the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967 Six-Day war.
Israel fought with Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians several times. Nevertheless, it has struck peace deals with Egypt and Jordan in 1970s and 1990s. Small skirmishes involving Israel and Palestinians, in particular with Hamas based in Gaza, have occurred quite intermittently. Woefully, the most recent military confrontation in this front even saw an escalation of sophistication in weapons technology in the opinion of an American expert Robert Denin.
If the Palestinians have felt like losing their elder cousin in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt as in R. Denin’s view, Israelis are no less uncertain about developments in the region. As Arab democratic wave spreads in many countries, current focus of American leadership is not on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This has led Israel feel isolated because it has deeper political, economic and military relationship with the U.S. and without American activism in the region no breakthrough in Mideast peace is feasible.
Israeli concerns about the future leadership of Egypt with whom it signed a bilateral peace treaty in 1979 are indeed serious. Mubarak’s authoritarianism was helpful to Netanhayu because it was easier to maintain the sanctity of Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. Should a more radical Islamist group come to power in post-Mubarak era, there might be a possibility of revisiting the peace agreement in striking which former U.S. president Jimmy Carter played a very constructive role.
Egypt is the first Arab country to sign a treaty with Israel and accordingly recognize the State of Israel. Former president of Egypt Sadat had even visited Jerusalem in 1977 and addressed the Knesset. He had to pay for his life to the cause of Egyptian-Israeli peace.
Israel looks more confused about its future policy vis-à-vis Syria, a major Arab country with territorial disputes. The Syrian revolution has yet to gather momentum. President Basher al-Assad may survive unlike to Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak by instituting suitable domestic reforms. He has been regarded as a reformist leader compared to his late father Hafez al-Assad by the Israelis and others.
How flexibly will Basher negotiate peace with Israel in the changed political environment is still difficult to predict. Nonetheless, the Israeli defense establishment seems to favor strategic realignment by having a peace deal with Syria. This realignment in their view may stem Iran’s regional clout. This aspect is important for Israel as Iran-backed militias like Hamas and Hezbollah have become serious threats to the country’s security. But Israelis like others in the region still wonder what the alternative to Basher might be in case he is ousted.