In the wake of the anti-US Islamist turbulence sweeping Arab capitals, Israel has posted additional military, police and security forces in the West Bank, opposite the Gaza Strip and among Israeli Arab communities following information received that all three are preparing to stage big anti-American protests Friday, Sept. 14, which could easily spill over into Israel.
DEBKAfile: The Palestinian Authority hopes to re-direct West Bank and East Jerusalem anger against PA leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayad into an anti-US channel, while Hamas is under orders from the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to fill the streets of Gaza with protesters against the alleged anti-Muslim film produced in the US in sync with a big Brotherhood demonstration in Cairo Friday.
Several scores of Israeli Arabs, members of the extremist Northern Section of the Islamic Movement, demonstrated outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv Thursday, chanting anti-American slogans and praise for the Prophet Muhammad.
Israeli authorities are bracing for this small demonstration to swell in numbers after Friday prayers at the mosques and send large numbers of Palestinians and Israeli Muslims out on the streets to replicate the riots against the US spreading Thursday through Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Morocco and Bangladesh since the deaths of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff in a premeditated Al Qaeda attack in Benghazi Tuesday, Sept. 11.
DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that the anti-US ferment sweeping Arab capitals in the last three days finds Obama administration policy-makers in two minds about how it fits into the bigger picture of the Arab Spring and its aftermath. According to one interpretation, the tumult has a domestic motive, and was stirred up or exploited to weaken the new rulers thrown up by the Arab Spring while at the same time dimming US influence in the region.
This view holds that radical Islamists, ranging from Salafites to groups associated with Al Qaeda, are fanning the flames to start a process that will lead to the overthrow of the overly “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood, which is the bedrock of the relationship President Obama is striving to build between the United States and the post-revolution Arab world.
The advocates of this approach say America must maintain the flow of economic and political assistance to Brotherhood-led regimes, notably President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, to help them stay on their feet against the violent buffeting of radical Islamists.
The other Washington camp takes the opposite line, arguing that “moderate” Islamic rulers like Morsi are in no danger at all and are in fact riding the anger of the masses over the film deriding Islam to solidify their grip on power at the expense of America’s unpopularity among Muslims.
To prove this point, they offer three examples:
1. Since becoming president, Morsi has never retracted statements he made denying al Qaeda’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks in America. Brotherhood Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein pinned the attacks on “one of the intelligence services in America, or the Jews.” The Brotherhood still stands by the conspiracy theory that the US staged the atrocity to villify Islam.
2. Morsi, who has been invited to the White House at the end of this month, refrained from condemning the murder of four US diplomats in Libya or offering the Egyptian people’s condolences to the US for its loss. He also waited 24 hours before issuing a tepid statement against the militants who stormed the US embassy in Cairo. he made no mention of the black al Qaeda flags hoisted above the US embassy in Cairo after the Stars and Stripes was torn down. Instead, the Egyptian president instructed his embassy in Washington to prepare a suit against the film’s director. That was before he turned out embarrassingly to be an Egyptian Copt.
3. Thursday, Brotherhood websites aired divergent messages on their English and Arabic sites: In English, protesters were exhorted to exercise restraint. There were also words of self-congratulation that the US embassy gates were not broken down and no Americans harmed. In Arabic, the Egyptian masses were called out to demonstrate en masse Friday against the made-in-the-USA film.
That demonstration will be carefully watched to see whether it is quiet or veers into violence and anti-American outbursts. That will be the test of Morsi’s bone fides in American eyes. However, its main importance as he sees it is as a demonstration that the Brotherhood has regained control of the streets of Cairo.
It was to show the Egyptian president that he is still on trial in Washington, that President Obama said Thursday that the US would no longer consider the Egyptian government an ally, “but we don’t consider them an enemy. …I think we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, to see how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel.” he said.
The way ahead is unclear for Washington as well as Jerusalem. The anti-US ferment in Arab capitals may just be starting. Its next directions and duration are still imponderable. Israel prepares to celebrate the New Year next week surrounded by extreme volatility among its neighbors.