The Neocons Split with Israel Over Egypt

Well, this is interesting. The neoconservative (or liberal interventionist) wing of American Jewish political thought (not that all neocons are Jewish, God forbid anyone should think that!) is cheering on the revolution in Egypt, while the Israeli government, and much of Israel's pundit class, is seeing the apocalypse in Mubarak's apparent downfall. Writing in The Times today, Yossi Klein Halevi captures the despairing mood of the Israeli policy elite:

"(T)he grim assumption is that it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation.

Either result would be the end of Israel's most important relationship in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has long stated its opposition to peace with Israel and has pledged to revoke the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty if it comes into power. Given the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas's control of Gaza and the unraveling of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, an Islamist Egypt could produce the ultimate Israeli nightmare: living in a country surrounded by Iran's allies or proxies.

But the neoconservatives, who have made democracy promotion in the Middle East an overarching goal, are scratching their heads at what they see as Israeli shortsightedness. I asked Elliott Abrams, formerly of the Bush Administration National Security Council, and now at the Council on Foreign Relations, what he makes of the Israeli longing for Mubarak. He was scathing in his response:

The Israelis first of all do not believe in the universality of democracy.  They believe what many American "experts" did in, say, 1950--democracy was fine for us and Western Europe, but not for Latins (too much Catholic culture) and Asians (too much Confucianism).  They believe Arab culture does not permit democracy.

They see a danger in Mubarak's fall, and they are right: we do not know who will take over now or in a year or two from now.  But this is at bottom a crazy reaction.  What they are afraid of is the Muslim Brotherhood, right?  Mubarak has ruled for THIRTY YEARS and leaves us a Brotherhood that is that powerful?  Isn't that all the proof we need that dictatorship is not the way to fight the Brotherhood?  He crushed the moderate and centrist groups and left the Brothers with an open field.  He is to blame for the Brothers' popularity and strength right now.  The sooner he goes the better.

It's worth remembering that, despite the various Walt and Mearsheimer-style conspiracy theories about Israeli influence on American politics, the Israelis themselves were noticeably unenthusiastic about another neoconservative notion, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In other words, the gap between Israel and the neocons that has widened over Egypt is not, in fact, new.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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