Jerusalem, Sept. 12 - Top Israeli leaders, former intelligence chiefs and military heads, unanimously expressed support for Israel’s relations with Egypt and Turkey at a counter-terrorism conference Sunday (Sept. 11). The Arab Spring, they agreed, makes Israel’s ties to Egypt and Turkey essential—particularly if the movements coalesce into an ‘Islamic Winter,’ referring to the idea that extremist Islam could potentially fill the vacuum created if people are left frustrated and disappointed after the Arab Spring.
Israel has maintained peaceful ties with Egypt since 1979, when then Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin signed a comprehensive peace treaty.
Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence agency, said that while each country in the Middle East is different there is a domino-effect in the region. “Israel must do all it can to preserve peace with Egypt,” Yatom explained, which could mean agreeing to Egypt’s deployment of more forces in Sinai and strengthening the Egyptian-Israeli border.
Over the weekend, thousands of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, adding to fears of instability between Egypt and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the Israeli embassy in Cairo is Israel’s “axis of peace” and that Israel will do all it can to maintain peaceful relations.
Israel’s former head of Military Intelligence Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash echoed the peace sentiment, saying that Egypt, a predominantly Sunni-Arab country, is a counterweight to Iran’s Shi’ite-Islamic regime that is “about six months” away from nuclear weapons capabilities.
Iran, one of the Middle East’s strongest players, vows to destroy Israel and funds, arms and trains Hezbollah and Hamas, proxy-groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively.
“Change comes from the bottom-up. It comes from numbers. It comes from strength of the people demanding jobs, industry and better education,” Ze’evi-Farkash added, pointing out that changes in the Middle East are not coming from the terror regimes but from the people on the ‘Arab street.’
Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Shaul Mofaz added that the Turkish-Israeli relationship is critical and that he believes good ties will be restored. “Israel needs Turkey, and this is an important moment, but Turkey also needs Israel. There are a lot of strategic interests at play here,” explained Mofaz.
Turkey and Israel’s relations became strained last year after Israel killed nine Turkish nationals who tried to reach Hamas-controlled Gaza on the Mavi Marmara last May. Israel said it regrets the loss of life but did not issue a formal apology to Turkey, causing relations to sour even further, last week.
Turkey’s Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been supportive of Islamic movements - particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran-backed Hamas – and is seeking a larger role in geopolitics. Erdogan is visiting Egypt, Tunisia and Libya this week. The trip points to Turkey’s desire to expand its influence in the region during this period of political flux.