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Surprising Israel

By JONATHAN ADELMAN and ASAF ROMIROWSKY, UPI Outside View Commentators   |   July 23, 2013 at 12:05 AM   |   Comments

PHILADELPHIA, July 23 (UPI) -- The chaos gripping the Middle East, especially Syria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, is leading to a surprising turnabout for many powers, in and outside of the region.

Starting with the United States, long-time superpower in the region not since the British withdrawal in the 1950s and 1960s, now finds itself surprisingly powerless to deal with the "Arab Spring" or ongoing Islamist upheaval.

In Libya, the decision to let the British and French lead the charge translated into U.S. weakness and powerless.

Once the powerful benefactor of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and its main supplier of military equipment ($40 billion of U.S. equipment) ever since Camp David in 1978, the United States finds itself sidelined in the current Egyptian showdown. Its support for Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi alienated its natural base (Christians, secularists, liberals and the old "deep Egypt") while underwhelming the Muslim Brotherhood when it failed to prevent the military, once a close U.S. ally, from ousting it from power.

In Syria the United States, has led far from behind alienating many of its natural secular rebel allies by not providing them with the badly needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and a free fly zone while further infuriating its natural enemies -- al-Nusra Front and al-Qaida. Too, its other natural allies -- the Saudis and Persian Gulf states -- have been backing the anti-American Islamist rebels in Syria.

In all of this turmoil, only one state, which has had its rows with the United States but always stands resolutely with it, remains staunchly pro-American. That state, of course, is Israel, which gains stature by standing by the United States when even the Egyptian military flouts its desires by overthrowing Morsi, arresting key Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Second, Israel, apart from the looming Iranian threat, finds its strategic situation on the borders improved. Israel in its first 25 years fought four major wars against enemies threatening its existence (Egypt, Syria and twice Jordan). Now, Jordan has been at peace with Israel since the 1994 peace treaty and both Egypt and Syria are seriously weakened by the uprisings in their countries.

The Egyptian military, which is cooperating against terrorism in the Sinai and totally dependent on a wavering United States for $1.3 billion of military aid, will be absorbed in the chaotic business of trying to govern, either directly or indirectly, for the next 35 years.

It not only will have to deal with a sinking economy, lack of tourism and foreign direct investment (helped thought by $12 billion Persian Gulf aid) but also in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood and disillusioned shabab. Under these conditions whatever threat it might pose to Israel (already low) will sink to nearly zero in the next few years.

Syria, too, which hasn't launched a war against Israel since October 1973, finds its military capabilities fully engaged in fighting rebels, secularists and Islamists in the next few years. Having already killed close to 100,000 civilians, it has lost the "mandate of Heaven" but likely, with Iranian Russian and Hezbollah help, will totter along holding onto Damascus and a central and western part of Syria.

Its inability to prevent or respond to Israeli airstrikes going back to the destruction of its nuclear plant in September 2007 to the recent attack on a Syrian military depot, show that Assad has neither will nor capability to take on a more powerful Israeli military while fighting for his very survival.

Third, its main non-state enemies are also in decline. Hamas, which already was ousted from Damascus for supporting the opponents of Assad and lost Iranian support by this action, has alienated the Egyptian military though its active support of its parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Fourth, Israel has suffered from thousands of rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza into Israel and two short wars. Now, thanks to the second Egyptian Revolution Hamas finds itself in dire straits. Its support of the rebels trying to overthrow Bashar Assad led to its being ousted from Damascus (where its Politburo was located) and alienating Syria's major patron, Iran.

Now, with the military overthrown of Morsi the new Egyptian leadership is openly hostile to Hamas which, as the offspring of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, was hostile to the military and "deep Egypt."

This means that its three major patrons are now hostile -- and that only leaves Qatar as a potential funder. All and all, Hamas in Gaza is surrounded by hostile states -- namely Egypt and Israel -- and facing a desperate future given its overall poverty. This relieves pressure on Israel from the southern direction.

Furthermore, Israel's other non-state enemy, Hezbollah, is also in deep trouble. Having spent more than 25 years championing the anti-Israel cause in Lebanon, it suddenly appears as what it really is, a radical Shiite organization founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and directed in part by Iran.

Thousands of its fighters are in Syria supporting the Shiites and thereby deeply alienating the non-Shiite majority in Lebanon. It is losing dozens and even hundreds of fighters spearheading the war for Assad and thereby endangering its own military capacity. Its ability to fight Israel is thereby diminished.

Finally, the Palestinians, who have long seen themselves and are seen by many Arabs as the defining cause for Arabs, are once more being punished by other Arabs, in this case Syria, which has chased tens of thousands of them into Lebanon. There they live in wretched refugee camps and can't buy property. As in the 1970s in Jordan, 1980s in Iraq and Lebanon and 1990s in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it is other Arabs who have expelled the Palestinians from their homes.

And yet, despite all this potentially good news for Israel, it might well turn south very quickly. Hezbollah might also turn the tide in general for Assad and become a hero for Syria and Iran. The nearly three dozen sites for chemical weapons in Syrian might come in part or whole under the ascendant Islamist rebel forces al-Nusra or al-Qaida. This might present a significant danger to Israel, especially because the U.S. Department of Defense has stated that these depots are so large that it would take 75,000 U.S. soldiers several years to take them over and guarantee their safety.

But, most importantly, it does little to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and threatening the very existence of Israel.

Further, now that Hamas has upgraded M-75 rockets that can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Hezbollah, with its dramatic increase in reinforced bases for missiles that could hit all of Israel, present an increased threat to the home front.

To the extent that the multiple crises in the Arab Middle East absorbed the attention of the Obama administration and Western powers, it might allow Iran to lose importance in their eyes and to make a successful dash toward nuclear weapons and the systems to deliver them.

This alone, given the small size of Israel would mean that the crises in the Arab Middle East, far from possibly helping Israel, could ultimately prove a disaster for Israel.

Which way will things go? Only time will tell.

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(Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and Asaf Romirowsky is the acting executive director for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East).

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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