Not much good to come from Arab Spring


Men shovel dirt onto the grave as friends and relatives of the Ami family mourn their loss at the funeral of Moshe Ami, 56, a father and resident of Ashkelon, at the Ashkelon cemetery on October 30, 2011 in Ashkelon, Israel.


Ilia Yefimovich

JERUSALEM — If you want to dip in a cold bath of pessimism concerning the Arab Spring, come to Jerusalem. Most Israelis, I would say, see little in it that’s good for them.

I was personally surprised at the depth of pessimism. Even such well-known doves as Yossi Beilin would say only that it is too early to tell how the events of 2011 will play out, while former chief of army in intelligence, Shlomo Gazit, spoke of how it took many decades for the French Republic to settle down after the French Revolution — and then only after Bonaparte had had his day.

The depth of resentment against Turkey, an erstwhile ally, also runs deep; the suspicion being that Turkey is trying to create a sphere of influence in what was once the Ottoman empire.

Among conservatives here, the gloom is more pronounced.

“All over the picture is extremely bleak,” said Dan Schueftan, director of Haifa University’s National Securities Study Center, whose views, I have found, to reflect the political right.

There may be some good that can come from regime change in this region, he said — Iran, for example. If the present regime could be gotten rid of, Iran could be a very positive force. “The Iranian people are quite impressive," he said.

But “in the Arab world we have a major problem with the society,” he added. Dictators can fall, but in the Arab world something worse could emerge, and in Schueftan’s view it most certainly will.

“Egypt is more important than all the others put together,” he said, “and we have already lost a cornerstone of regional stability” as well as a counterbalance to Iran.

The villain in Schueftan’s worldview, however, is Turkey — once an ally of Israel but now unfriendly.

“When Egypt is weakened the Turkish threat becomes more dangerous than the Iranian threat,” he said. This is because Iran is Shia, and its influence can really only extend to the Shia world. “But Turkey is striving for hegemony over the Sunni world,” and is moving in to fill the vacuum left by Egypt.

His bill of particulars against Turkey: “They support Hamas and you can expect them to work with the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Gaza. Oh, yes, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan was criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood for advocating a secular regime in Egypt, but in Schueftan’s view you have to “look deeper” to see that Turkey and the Muslim Brothers have much in common.

Put Israel aside for a moment. “The West is obsessed with Israel,” Schueftan said. “Jews make news.”

But if you look at the bigger picture, Jordan is a buffer not only for Israel, but between Saudi Arabia and Syria as well as Iraq. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel were alternatives and checks to radical tendencies in the region, “but Egypt is not there anymore.”

And with Turkey moving in as an alternative to Egypt’s influence, “it is inevitable,” that the radicals in Jordan, with its large Palestinian population and Muslim Brotherhood, “will win.”

Thus, in Schueftan’s view, radicalism will gain the upperhand in Syria, Jordan and Egypt, too, under the malevolent influence of Turkey.

In the bigger picture the Palestinian-Israeli issue counts for nothing.

I would have said that Turkey is an example of non-radical Islam, a beacon of hope, but in Schueftan’s view its support for Hamas and Gaza disqualifies it. The world says Turkey is OK, “it only hates the Jews,” but look where that has led in the past. Schueftan, in this case, makes no distinction between Turkey being against the government of Israel’s policies and being against the Jewish people.

As for the United States: Well-meaning but stupid. The US threw Hosni Mubarak “under a bus,” said Schueftan, and even if Mubarak couldn’t be saved, the US should have been seen to have tried. Now, every leader in the region who has supported the United States has gotten the message that the US will abandon them.

“It is simply a fantasy to say that the alternative to Mubarak in Egypt will be democracy,” Schueftan said. The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t want power, at least not right away. It wants to change society. The army wants to keep its huge economic enterprises. The Brothers will support them in exchange for being able to make Egypt more Islamic. The Brothers don’t want to rule now, because they know that Egypt’s economy will collapse, and that people will turn to them.

Doesn’t the president of Israel, senior statesman Shimon Peres, think differently about the Arab Spring? “Shimon Peres is stupid and has been wrong about everything,” said Schueftan.

Israel is going through a rough patch, and when you are in a siege mentality you tend to see everyone outside the gate as an enemy.