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Analysis

How will the Arab Spring reshape the Middle East? Add to ...

It wasn’t that they were so enamoured of Mr. Mubarak or what they called the “cold peace” that exists between the countries. It was that they were frightened about possible alternatives.

What happens if Egypt elects an Islamist parliament or president, or if Iran’s influence in the region is enhanced?

While Islamic influences in Egypt’s parliament are likely to increase, as they may well increase elsewhere, Egypt’s armed forces are not about to allow an anti-Israeli Islamist to rule.

But Israel needs to move quickly – and boldly – to ensure it isn't isolated by the fast-moving events in the region.

Israel should “rush to create a Palestinian state along sustainable and fair lines ... and thus avoid decades of future confrontation based on this profound Arab need,” John Bell, director of Middle East programs at the Toledo International Center for Peace in Madrid wrote in Haaretz this month. “The status quo,” Mr. Bell wrote, “guarantees conflict.”

Which is more or less the point made recently by Charles Bronfman, the Canadian businessman and philanthropist and one of Israel’s great supporters.

Writing in Yedioth Aharonoth last week, Mr. Bronfman noted the exciting opportunities for democracy in the Arab world and for Israel to work with such democracies. But he added that Israel “is seen as an occupier denying freedom to the Palestinians as surely as Hosni Mubarak denied freedom to the Egyptian people. As long as it fails to end the occupation, Israel will be seen to be on the wrong side of history.”

You knew that history was changed when two Iranian warships sailed north through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean last week. Until now, the only unusual passage through the canal was by Israeli warships heading in the opposite direction.

Not only did the new governing authority in Egypt give permission for the Iranian vessels to pass – something Mr. Mubarak wouldn’t countenance – but the ships also docked beforehand in the Saudi Arabian Red Sea port of Jeddah.

These are new developments, said Mr. Crooke, “A major shift has taken place.”

Egypt’s pro-Israel, anti-Iran disposition is breaking down, Mr. Crooke said. “And Saudi Arabia knows what that means.”

As the world knows from WikiLeaks, the House of Saud feels threatened by Iran and has allied itself with Egypt, the UAE and Jordan in a pro-U.S. camp that supports policies intended to buttress Israel and keep Iran in check.

Should that group weaken, Riyadh will have to take other steps to protect itself.

But isn’t it possible the popular uprising in the Arab countries will encourage pro-democracy elements in Iran to follow suit, and that in turn could lead to less aggressive Iranian policies?

Mr. Crooke is among the pessimists who doesn’t think so. “Iran and Syria,” he says, “are the least likely of all the countries in the region” to be affected by this Arab phenomenon.

Iran has been there, and tried that, he said, most recently in June of 2009 in the wake of allegations of election fraud. It failed to move a government prepared to use official and unofficial forces to fire on the people.

Michel de Salaberry, a former Canadian ambassador to Iran, as well to Egypt and Jordan, doesn’t agree.

“This pro-democracy movement in the Arab world actually started in Tehran a year and a half ago,” said Mr. de Salaberry, who was in Tehran at the time and has been in Cairo the past several weeks. “I think its success in Egypt and elsewhere may very well reignite the opposition in Iran.”

“I think this worries the [Iranian]regime a great deal.”

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