Israel arrives at a tough diplomatic intersection
Israel's crises with key regional partners Egypt and Turkey could pressure the Jewish state to make a renewed push for peace with the Palestinians.
Israel is expected to exercise "maximum restraint" as it faces a trio of regional challenges that threaten to further deepen its isolation, already more acute than the Jewish state has seen in decades.Skip to next paragraph
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The sharp deterioration in ties with key partners Egypt and Turkey in recent days could pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to shift its approach to regional challenges – most immediately, the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations next week.
"[The crises with Egypt and Turkey] will strengthen the parts of Netanyahu that will want a low-key response," says a former Israeli negotiator. "We’re on the verge of a major deterioration of Israel’s strategic position."
On Friday night, an Egyptian mob broke into the Israeli embassy in Cairo, prompting a commando operation to evacuate the ambassador and his staff. Just two days before, Turkey cut military trade ties with Israel for its refusal to apologize for the killing of passengers last year in clashes aboard a ship that challenged a naval blockade of Gaza.
Higher stakes for Israel's response
In recent months, Israel has been preparing a "basket" of potential responses to the Palestinian statehood campaign, running the gamut from annexing portions of the West Bank to considering recognition of a Palestinian state.
Though it is still unclear exactly what moves the Palestinians are planning at the UN beyond an appeal to the Security Council for full membership, it is clear that the stakes have become higher for Israel’s counter-moves.
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, says that Israel has been taking a "speak softly and carry a big stick" approach in an effort not to insult Egypt, even though Israel’s press has portrayed Egypt's interim military rulers as having been slow to intervene when hundreds of demonstrators overran the Israeli embassy.
"There’s a fragile situation in Egypt…. Israel is going to do everything in its power not to help the anti-peace camp," he says.
Even the military, which has been preparing in case of mass protests in the West Bank and on Israel’s borders in response to the UN move, "understands this is a time for maximum restraint," he adds.
A diplomatic intersection
For the past two decades, Israel’s geopolitical posture in the Middle East has rested on two key regional alliances: quiet cooperation with Egypt, one of two Arab states to have made peace with Israel, and an open embrace of Turkey.
But that structure now appears to be in shambles. On Sept. 7, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expelled from Turkey all but the lowest-level Israeli diplomats and halted military commercial contracts between the governments. At the same time, he suggested that Turkey’s Navy might step up its presence in the Mediterranean.
Egypt’s interim government, meanwhile, is seen as unwilling or unable to counter popular opinion opposed to the 32-year-old peace treaty – seen by Israel and the West as a foundation of regional stability.
Now, as Israel faces what it characterizes as a "unilateral" move from Palestinians to establish sovereignty outside the Oslo peace process, it is approaching the United Nations General Assembly with weakened support from its friends and allies.