Nir Boms and Asaf Hazani.Middle East Online
Israelis have used a variety of terms to describe the past few years’ events in the Arab world, reflecting how different actors have perceived the changes. What began as an “Arab spring” grew into a dangerous “radical Islamic winter”; and as Israel’s leaders remained unable to define the nature of the transformations, it became a “Middle East upheaval.” Gradually the tendency to swing between optimism and pessimism turned into profound puzzlement.
Impressed by the domino effect of the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, Israelis initially saw the wave of protests as a fascinating sociological experiment taking place “over there,” far from its own borders. The country continued to think of itself as separate, a unique case in the Middle East or, as former Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak (2007-13) put it, “a villa in the jungle.” Even the “tent protests” that broke out in the summer of 2011 were seen as an expression of bourgeois discontent, a summer adventure related more to events in the United States and Europe (the Occupy movement, the Indignados) than to the regional turbulence.
Israel initially chose to remain aloof. And although the Arab Spring made Israeli headlines, major developments in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain went unremarked upon since they were not seen as directly affecting national security.