TEL AVIV (Jan. 30)
Iraq’s first democratic election is over, but the impact of the Iraqi vote on Israel remains to be seen. Jacky Hugi crossed borders, both international and cultural, to take part in Iraq’s first democratic election.
But don’t expect the Israeli journalist, who cast his absentee ballot in Amman, Jordan, to reveal which of the 111 parties he backed in Sunday’s landmark vote.
“I am very hopeful that this is a new day for Iraq, and its relations with Israel,” Hugi, the son of Iraqi Jewish immigrants, told JTA.
“But I think it would be unwise at this point to go public with which government I, an Israeli, want to see installed in Baghdad. I don’t want to prejudice any Iraqis against this-or-that party even before the election is over,” said the Ma’ariv correspondent.
With their country still not officially recognized by Iraq, only a handful of some 244,000 eligible Israelis voted as absentees, in Jordan, the United States and Britain.
But the election provoked widespread interest in a Jewish state where optimism at the fall of Saddam Hussein has been replaced with unease at seeing Iraq descend into sectarian fighting and jihadi terrorism.
“It may have been too early for us to have declared the Eastern Front pacified,” said a senior Israeli official on condition of anonymity, referring to earlier assessments that with a peace deal in place with Jordan and a U.S.-friendly administration in Baghdad, Israel was no longer at risk of invasion from the east.
Avigdor Lieberman, a lawmaker with the right-wing National Union bloc, has warned that a triumph by Iraq’s Shi’ite majority could link them to anti-Israel coreligionists in Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
“We have to be prepared for an even greater strategic threat, a ‘Shi’ite belt’ all the way from the gulf to the Mediterranean,” Lieberman said at a security conference in Herzliya last month.
But a veteran Arab affairs analyst gave a slightly rosier prediction for post-vote Iraq.
“If day-after wisdom prevails, this could lead the majority Shi’ite parties to get over past hatreds and incorporate representatives of the Sunni minority in political life,” said Smadar Peri of Yediot Achronot. “If the Sunnis are not brought in, Iraq will not know a day of quiet.”
Preliminary results were expected early in the week, with final results known in seven to 10 days.
With Iraqis turning out to vote despite an unprecedented wave of terror, at least one Israeli exulted in the very act of a free vote — which, according to President Bush’s new favorite book, Natan Sharansky’s “The Case for Democracy,” is a crucial step toward stability and security.
“Everything seemed like a particularly hallucinatory dream,” said Shahar Smooha of Ha’aretz, like Hugi an Iraqi expatriate who cast a ballot in Amman.
“Only my black finger reminds me what a celebration of democracy I took part in a few hours ago,” he said, describing the indelible ink used to prevent voter fraud.