Embassy attack a wake-up call for Israel

Israel has clearly not grasped that Turkey and Egypt in 2011 are nothing like they were a decade or even a year ago.

    Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has isolated his nation with aggressive regional policies  [Reuters]

    Protests at Israel's embassy in Cairo on Friday escalated into an attack on the facility that brought down the Israeli flag and forced the ambassador and his staff to flee in the middle of the night.

    These dramatic events should come as a wake-up call: the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, can no longer take Egypt for granted.

    Egypt's empowered and vocal public opinion since the revolution that threw out the government of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, has changed the way Cairo does business with its presumed "peace partner".

    The window of opportunity to halt the deterioration of relations is closing fast. Do not expect relations to recover any time soon.

    Israel's killing of four Egyptian security officers on the border three weeks ago has angered Egyptians and humiliated the country's ruling military council. 

    It was no coincidence that Egyptian revolutionaries who called for a day of protest under the slogan "Correct the path" would make their way for a second time to the Israeli embassy.

    Indeed, members of the public are either unaware or have forgotten that Egypt's movement for change started 10 years ago as a solidarity movement with the Palestinian Intifada and against Israeli occupation.

    Activists at the time viewed Mubarak's failures in domestic affairs as an extension of his defeatist foreign policies.

    Israeli denial

    Despite Mubarak's attempts to cover up Israel's 2008 war against the Gaza Strip, and to pressure the Palestinian leadership to accept Israeli dictates, the Netanyahu administration paid lip service to its "peace partner".

    Last year, the Israeli navy embarrassed another friendly regional power, Turkey, when it attacked its flotilla in the Mediterranean's international waters, killing nine Turkish activists.

    The Netanyahu government has refused to apologise for the attack, and instead warned Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, about the consequences of making escalatory statements.

    An angered Erdogan government severed relations with Turkey's former strategic ally and put Israel on notice.

    Israel has clearly paid little attention to the fact that Turkey and Egypt in 2011 are nothing like they were a year or a decade ago.

    Netanyahu's administration seems to have ignored the facts that the region has been transformed by the democratic change that brought Erdogan's AK Party to the fore in Ankara, and has empowered the Egyptian public like nothing before.

    Israel cannot seem to accept the idea that it might no longer get away with humiliating its friends or foes under the pretext of guarding Israeli security.

    Isolation beckons

    As it stands, Netanyahu's Israel has lost the only two significant allies it had in the region.

    Its attempts to pressure Washington into cleaning up its mess and tame its adversaries does not seem to be helping either.

    Washington has also lost much of its political leverage in Turkey and Egypt because of the public pressure in both countries.

    Any more pressure by Washington would only embarrass the generals in Turkey and the ruling military council in Egypt which are already under tremendous pressure from their respective publics.

    Even though Washington remains an important strategic ally to both countries and commands strong military-to-military relations, it can no longer protect Israel from popular anger.

    As the godfather of normalised relations between Israel and Egypt, Washington has reacted swiftly and angrily to the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

    But its mild reactions to the Israeli attacks on the Egyptian border and the Turkish flotilla have invoked accusations of diplomatic double standards. In the process, the outcry has weakened Washington's leverage in the region.

    The same applies to the failure this week of Barack Obama, the US president, to prevent the Palestinians from pursuing United Nations recognition.

    His threat to veto any such resolution presented to the UN Security Council has also raised eyebrows in the Arab world, considering Obama's failure to pressure Israel's settlement freeze in the occupied Palestinian territories.

    Israel's intransigence will ultimately lead not only to its isolation, but also to a weakened US posture in the region.

    For Israel, if it truly wants to change all that, a round of apologies may be in order. As one Western commentator put it this week: "Yes, Israel, increasingly isolated, should do just that. An apology is the right course and the smart course. What’s good for Egypt — an apology over lost lives — is good for Turkey, too."

    Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst.

    He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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