Jacob Heilbrunn

Israel's Growing And Not-So-Splendid Isolation

Israel, which reached a cold peace with Egypt and a warm one with Turkey, has seen both evaporate in recent months. The attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo—the premier symbol of the relations between the two countries—was evocative of the 1979 Iranian occupation of the American embassy in Tehran. Either the military council was surprised by the attack or it is trying to deflect attention from Egypt's internal woes onto Israel. But the fact remains that Israel has suffered an erosion in security under the Netanyahu government.

Israel's current, intransigent approach is boomeranging. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

"This should be very disturbing to us. . . . There is a question about our place in the Middle East," said Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israel's Shin Bet Intelligence Service, in an interview with Israel Radio. "The Egypt that was the bedrock on which we founded our strategy has disappeared."

This is why it is questionable whether the Arab Spring should put a spring in the step of the West. Will the result of Egypt and, yes, Libya simply be to install new regimes that are disposed towards Muslim radicalism? Ian Buruma, in contributing to a New York Times debate with Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff and David Rieff, lucidly observes that liberal intervention and wars have a melancholy pedigree:

I really don’t know what “advancing the liberal argument” means, except that it is supposed to make us feel warm all over. Are we talking about U.S. government policies? Fine. Military intervention, to topple regimes, the Napoleonic enterprise of revolutionary war, is almost always a mistake. Humanitarian intervention is the way this is phrased these days, but in fact this is often not so different from the Napoleonic way. There are things a powerful government can do to help democrats and liberals in other countries short of military force. Sometimes it is better to do nothing much at all.

Yet the neoconservatives loudly proclaimed that the road to peace in the Middle East did not run through Jerusalem. It ran through Baghdad, they said. The results speak for themselves.

Now Turkey and Egypt, both key countries for Israel, are becoming increasingly hostile to it. The most proximate cause of the hostility, of course, is the immiseration of the Palestinians. The Palestinian conundrum is not the sole reason that the Arabs have viewed, and continue to view, Israel with antipathy. But the failure to reach some kind of peace deal, or even show any progress, continually inflames tensions in the region. Now they have a popular outlet. Governments are responding.

Turkey has already expelled the Israeli ambassador to Ankara because of Netanyahu's refusal—prompted by Foreign Minsiter Avigdor Lieberman—to refuse to apologize for the assault on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, which resulted in the deaths of nine passengers. Prime Minister Erdogan is visiting Cairo today. Perhaps he will also drop in to visit Hamas in the Gaza Strip to further infuriate his Israeli interlocutors. Next week the issue of Palestinian statehood will be aired at the United Nations. Once more, the United States will look like the bad guy in the Arab world as it vetoes the proposition.

For its part, Israel has to worry that it is becoming overly dependent on America. It took American pressure to prod the Egyptian military junta to send in commandos to rescue the embassy officials. Now America will again protect Israel at the United Nations.

The more time passes, the more isolated Israel is becoming. It needs to reboot.