Friday, February 4, 2011

Israel watches with fearful sense of déjà vu

By Tobias Buck in Jerusalem

For the past 10 days, Israelis have been glued to their television sets watching the political drama unfold on the streets of Egypt. They know the images show Cairo in early 2011. But to many Israelis, they offer a bleak and troubling reminder of a different revolution.

In January 1979, Israel’s closest ally in the region, Iran, was undergoing much the same internal turmoil as Egypt today. A broad coalition of opposition groups – led by supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini – had been staging mass rallies for more than a year. Just as in Egypt today, protesters were demanding the removal of a pro-western autocratic ruler with close ties to the Jewish state.

The Iranian revolution, which ultimately succeeded in ousting the shah, created a strategic nightmare for Israel. The country lost its closest ally in the region, and gained an implacable enemy in the Islamic republic. Israel’s two most recent wars – against Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and against Hamas in Gaza in 2009 – were fought against groups sponsored, supplied and trained by Tehran. More menacing still is Iran’s nuclear programme, universally regarded in Israel as an existential threat to the Jewish state.

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