- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One of Israel’s top intelligence analysts says it is too soon to say whether the wave of uprisings in the Middle East will bring more democratic societies or empower political Islam.

“Is this a democratization and modernization revolution? Or is it an Islamic/nationalistic revolution?” said Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

“The Americans say this is the democratic modernization revolution; in Israel, we would want just that. Israel does not want to be the only democratic country in the Middle East,” he said in an interview with The Washington Times. “The Iranians say they want to say, ‘We won because those against us lost.’ As if this is a zero-sum game.”

However, he added: “There is a possibility this is not a zero-sum game. A new force may emerge that endangers the Iranians, an Arab center of gravity.”

Most Arab states have no diplomatic ties to Israel, but U.S. diplomatic cables published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks show that Israel maintained secret high-level contact with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Iran.

If the governments of these countries were taken over by anti-Western Islamists, the U.S.-Israel-Arab alliance on Iran could be jeopardized.

Mr. Kuperwasser said there is no opportunity for Israel to have a lasting peace with proponents of radical Islam.

“Radical Islam can get to a place where they accept the fact that there is a temporary situation where Israel exists,” he said. “But they deny the right of Israel to exist, not only as a Jewish state but to exist at all, even as a non-Jewish state. They see Israel as a temporary situation where it should be destroyed.”

Mr. Kuperwasser said he was closely watching events in Egypt, the most populous Arab country and the seat of the Arab League.

Some analysts have said the military for the time being would manage Egypt’s “strategic file,” or its relationship with Israel and the United States. This is similar to the situation in Turkey for much of the 20th century, when the military managed the country’s relationship with NATO and the United States.

Mr. Kuperwasser, who served as the head of research and assessment for the intelligence branch of the Israel Defense Forces before taking his current post, said he has seen no evidence that the military would manage the strategic file in Egypt.

“Once there will be elections, the newly elected president and government will probably be in charge of Egypt. What is going to be the role of the military? Nobody knows. Nobody knows. It is not clarified by the new draft of the constitution,” he said.

Egypt’s constitution prohibits overtly religious parties from running for office, a clause that has forced the Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood to run candidates who were unaffiliated with a political party.

The constitution also says the Koran is a source of Egyptian law.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders have said that they would seek to enforce this clause of the constitution, which was an amendment supported by Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who was murdered by Islamic extremists in 1981 as punishment for signing the peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt is important to Israel because it is the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state, in 1979. The Egyptian military, which is the caretaker regime in Cairo until presidential elections are held in September, has said there will be no change to the peace treaty, but there are signs the next government would be hostile to Israel.

Egypt’s new foreign minister, Nabil el-Araby, named this week to the caretaker government has said he would support trying Israeli leaders in international courts for crimes of aggression.

Ayman Nour, a secular politician who was jailed by now-ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2006 after an unsuccessful challenge to his presidency, said last month that if he were elected president, he would review the treaty with Israel.

“There is a wide part of the population in Egypt and I think also in high ranks of the military of people that don’t want to see Egypt becoming Iran,” Mr. Kuperwasser said. “They don’t want to see Egypt becoming a radical power, to see Egypt leaving the pragmatic part of the Arab world that maintains reasonable relations with the West.”

Mr. Kuperwasser said he did not know if this segment of the population is the majority, but he said it is a significant number of people.

“Many people want to see more justice, more wealth shared within the country, more participation in the political process, but they don’t want that to lead to a radical state,” he said.

At the same time Mr. Kuperwasser said Egyptians had been bombarded with textbooks, media and other materials that in essence say Jews have no legitimate right to a homeland in modern-day Israel.

“The public in Egypt was never told or educated to support the idea of accepting Jews in the Middle East in general or Jews elsewhere,” Mr. Kuperwasser said. “The numbers of versions of protocols of elders of Zion in Arabic in Egypt is very large, you see it in the Egyptian curriculum, textbooks, all these things.”