Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the ongoing events in Egypt by urging that “regional stability and security” be preserved. Israel even asked Western governments to work to save the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
Netanyahu’s concern for his Egyptian friend and ally is touching. It also reflects his fear of what will happen if regime change occurs in Egypt and Mubarak is replaced by opponents of the peace with Israel.
But above all, Netanyahu’s stance reflects his clinging to the status quo and his instinctive aversion to any change in the Middle East. Israeli foreign policy views the reigning regional order, one of tyrants who remain in power for years, as the lesser evil. Israeli leaders have always preferred to do business with Mubarak and his ilk, on the assumption that they would “preserve stability” and forcibly repress the radical forces seeking change in the region.
This view led Israel to disregard the citizens of neighboring countries, viewing them as devoid of political influence in the best case and as hostile Israel-haters in the worst case. Israel viewed itself as a Western outpost and displayed no interest in the language, culture and public opinion of its immediate surroundings. Integration into the Middle East seemed like a trivial, if not a downright harmful, fantasy. As a result, Israel never prepared for the changes that were occurring behind the sclerotic facade of these countries’ rulers.
The revolution in Tunisia and the mass anti-government protests in Egypt demand a shift in the way Israel’s leaders see the regional order and Israel’s place in it. Instead of seeking refuge in the known and the familiar – the tired claims that “there’s no one to talk to and no one to rely on” – Israel’s foreign policy must adapt itself to a reality in which the citizens of Arab states, and not just tyrants and their cronies, influence the trajectory of their countries’ development.
The time has come to start preparing for a new regional order. Instead of clinging to the old, collapsing order, Netanyahu must seek peace agreements with both the Palestinians and with Syria in order to make Israel a more welcome and desirable neighbor.