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Commentary: 'Beware Arab Spring'

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:50 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- To those who hail the "Arab Spring" and the first free elections in Egypt in 60 years, a prominent Israeli responded, "Remember Mussolini, remember Hitler."

Two years after seizing power in 1922 with a march on Rome, one-time socialist Benito Mussolini's fascist party won 64 percent of the popular vote and 374 seats out 535 in Parliament.

Once in power, Mussolini outlawed left-wing parties. His coup inspired Adolf Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch, which failed. But in 1933, Hitler legally came to power in a free election.

For Zalman Shoval, 81, twice Israel's ambassador to the United States, a member of the Knesset for 40 years and close adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the "Arab Awakening" is an "anti-democratic, anti-human rights movement camouflaged as a victory for human rights."

Most Arab elections, warned Shoval, will produce anti-U.S., anti-Israel parliaments.

Twenty years after the Cold War, he says, "Israel is facing the longest erosion of its strategic environment" while "America's strategic environment is also eroding."

In Egypt, said Shoval, 87 million hungry people can't be fed, so a perfect geopolitical storm is generated to divert the people toward "enmity toward Israel."

Syria, now in a civil war, under its present leadership "is the indisputable link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. If President (Bashar) Assad falls, there is no way of predicting what comes next."

Hezbollah, said Shoval, has 30,000 missiles and Hamas, the no-peace-with-Israel regime in Gaza, is also dominant in the West Bank.

"Today everyone is more concerned about Iran and its drive for nuclear weapons and it will seek hegemony irrespective of a Palestinian settlement," he explained.

Islamist advances in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia "have made the next six, 12, 18 months totally unpredictable," Shoval said.

Arab-Israeli negotiations are at a dead end, he argued, "Because the Palestinians do not wish to negotiate. They ask for a freeze on settlements in the West Bank but the settlements are only 1.1 percent of that territory."

He was presumably referring to the settlements that lie beyond the 420-mile wall of separation. Everything between the 120-mile 1967 border and the wall is now presumably annexed to Israel.

The 1.1 percent refers to Jewish settlements between the wall and the Jordan River. And those will presumably be dismantled in a final settlement, much the way 21 Jewish settlements with 9,000 people in Gaza were abandoned in 2005.

But Shoval made clear Israel will also demand a physical security presence for the Israeli military along the Jordan River.

The Palestinians believe time is on their side, Shoval said. But "security cooperation between Israel and the U.S. is at the highest level in memory." And the $3 billion Israel receives yearly from the United States for defense is a tiny fraction of America's $3 trillion budget, "which enhances stability and makes it less likely the Arab world would start a new war. And the $3 billion goes back to U.S. (defense) jobs."

"The Middle East is increasingly topsy-turvy and there is only one stable ally who shares America's values. The U.S. has pre-positioned dual-use equipment in Israel and this should be expanded as it doesn't cost any money."

"The debate on the solidity of the U.S. relationship is key to understanding that if we stopped building settlements and returned the entire West Bank, it still would not be Scandinavia," Shoval said, adding that he didn't see "any erosion in the U.S. relationship."

"Once you believe you're becoming weak and impotent, you will become so," he warned.

The emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank as a result of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has never seemed more remote.

An Islamist majority in Egypt's new Parliament -- 37 percent for the Muslim Brotherhood and 24 percent for the ultra-radical Islamist Nour ("Light") party -- is a given. The radicals, known as Salafists, want to turn the clock back to the behavior of the first Muslim converts. They are violent, demand a ban on alcohol (which would kill the tourist industry -- 15 percent of the economy) and a dress code for women that make them look like ambulatory tents.

Salafism is the key religious ingredient in jihadism. In normally moderate Tunisia, the Salafi message is circulating freely, unimpeded by now dismantled censorship.

The less dogmatic Muslim Brotherhood projected moderation in the campaign but is quietly purging those who became genuinely moderate. It is also talking about revisions in Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, which it says the Jewish state isn't respecting.

The Arab Spring was a Western construct, based on the illusory hope of real democracy.

Hence the Egyptian army high command's determination to hang on to real power behind the scenes. It will resist any move that might provoke Israeli retaliation. But to placate Islamists, the army will be less accommodating with Israel on minor border issues.

Next door in Libya, the array of weapons and ammunition stashed in underground depots is staggering. And it would be nothing short of a miracle if al-Qaida's supporters hadn't absconded with some of what the new Libyan armed forces discovered in the Sokna and al-Rawagha regions near the Niger and Chad borders: stockpiles of nerve and mustard gas.

A plant was built with special barrels for the production of these agents with a capacity of 10,000 liters.

Scores of old Soviet SAM-7 anti-aircraft missile launchers as well as mortars and artillery pieces with shells were left unguarded for months.

New Libyan leaders from all walks of life are now feeling each other out to determine who might be best qualified to assess the country's defense needs. They say they need another 100 days.

On the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, Syria is, by all accounts, another Arab country in the throes of a civilian revolution against the army. Not good news there, either.

Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers were busy there, too.

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