EU Envoy: Israel Has Nothing to Fear From Regional Rise of Islamists

Europe's envoy to the Southern Mediterranean says 'It is much more difficult to have wars with democracies.'

The European Union's special envoy to the Southern Mediterranean, Bernardino Leon, on a lightening visit to Israel Thursday, told Haaretz that he does not believe Israel need fear the rise of Islamist governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

"It is much more difficult to have wars with democracies," Leon said.

Egyptian protesters - AP - 30122011

Leon, whose responsibilities include the EU response to the Arab Spring, was appointed to the post in July. He was previously the political adviser to the outgoing Spanish prime minister, Jose Zapatero, and is a diplomat with more than 20 years' experience, dealing mainly with the Middle East and the Arab world.

Over the past few months, Leon has shuttled between Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya to begin to open lines of communication and dialogue between the EU and the new parties rising in those countries, particularly the Islamists.

Leon was in Israel to present the EU's position on the regime changes in the Arab world to government leaders in Jerusalem, and to bring a calming message as to the impact the changes will have on Israel.

Leon met with National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and with more than 20 Israeli ambassadors to the EU, on Thursday.

"I understand the feeling of uncertainty - but my message to my Israeli friends is that the result of the transition will be different if the international community will support it. If we wait as spectators it might not happen - but if we engage it can work. This is not only voting - it is also jobs and this will not come without investment and the international community," Leon said.

Israeli political and defense officials are said to disparage the term "Arab Spring" and are suspicious of it and officials who still use the term, prefering to use the term "Islamic winter."

"I know the feeling here about the Arab Spring. It is not going to be easy but the real winter is what we had before - countries with corruption and torture. The transition to democracy can take decades, but if this line will continue it will definitely be better," Leon said.

Leon said he believes that for the new governments being established in the region in the coming months, Israel will be a marginal issue. "The focus will be on internal issues and on building new societies," he said. "They need stability to create jobs for the people and they will have to move from the symbolic world to the real world to bring back tourists and investors."

He said the Muslim Brotherhood will have to move from the comfort of the opposition, to a point of bearing responsibility.

"Those parties will have to experience running a country and providing services to the people - so things will be more practical than metaphysical and they will deal more with internal issues than international problems. If tourists do not come back to Egypt - they will lose the next election," Leon said.