by Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf, Staff Reporter | CJNews.com | March 3, 2011 Issue
TORONTO — An Egypt in turmoil is not the immediate threat to Israel that some might think, according to Raanan Gissin, who once served as former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser.
“The [worry that] the Muslim Brotherhood will assume power, that there will be a radical Islamic regime that will violate the peace process and send [Egyptian military] forces into the Sinai and the next day there’s a renewed war [with Israel] is not the case,” he told The CJN while in Toronto on a recent speaking tour of North America.
There remain many internal issues for the Egyptian government and army to resolve, mainly rampant poverty and hunger, said Gissin, currently a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry on terrorism and security issues.
“In non-democratic regimes in the Middle East, the army usually does the job of playing a responsible [social] role. And the Egyptian army, by law, is the force that protects ‘democracy.’ It sounds weird or paradoxical… but that’s the way it works in modern Egypt,” he added.
Egypt’s army will likely ensure that in the transition to a new government, the country remains calm and orderly, and it would prevent radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood from exploiting the situation until elections in September.
“The army will have to ensure that the voting will be done by ballots and not by bullets.”
Despite this, Gissin said there is a potential threat to Israel from “inadvertent escalation” of domestic chaos in Egypt.
If the transition to a new government doesn’t go smoothly and protests flare up again, Egypt could come to “a screeching halt” he said.
A crippled domestic infrastructure that can’t get food to market or operate ports would create havoc. And it’s the army that controls these essential services when necessary.
Gissin offered a second possible scenario: a weak fledgling government takes hold in Egypt after the election and turns “a blind eye” to terrorist activity against the Jewish state in order to keep peace on the streets of Cairo.
“We saw this in Lebanon, when Hezbollah entered the government. Egypt’s new government could do the same, relaxing its presence in the Sinai and along the border with Gaza,” he said.
“Suddenly, gradually, [Israelis] may awake one morning and find that it’s not only the 64 kilometres of Gaza that you have to deal with… but you have a 200-kilometre border with Egypt” to monitor more vigilantly.
This could create an “active” southern border for Israel, he added.
Still, the Egyptian army’s traditional role in society and its respected and historic social role precludes it from becoming the next Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gissin said.
Meanwhile, it’s the rest of the Arab world that troubles him.
With countries such as Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Algeria, among others, all experiencing some form of popular uprising, the danger of Iran using these countries as “trojan horses” to spread its malevolent influence is very real, he said.
Israel must “sit tight and watch” as the situation in the Middle East unfolds, Gissin said. “No one knows what’s going to happen. The ripple effect is still in progress. But it seems like its a kind of Survivor reality TV show in the region now. Which regimes will fall? There will be a lot of bloodshed. We’re in for a very long period of instability in the Middle East with weak governments,” and where strong governments emerge, they will likely take the form of fundamentalist Islamic ones.
“The most amazing thing in this whole process that is being overlooked is that the masses are no longer afraid” of their governments, Gissin said.
According to Gissin, the vast majority of protesters in these countries aren’t concerned with Israel or the Palestinians. Rather, they want stability in their lives and more freedom.
“In the Arab world now, we’re seeing a willingness for [protesters] to run against the bullets. They’re saying, ‘Leave us alone with all your excuses, your Israel politicking. You have to take care of us first.’ This is a [regional] social revolution that has been multiplied by the effect of the Internet.”