Netanyahu voices concern at direction Egypt might take


ISRAELI PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is “anxiously monitoring” developments in Egypt as commentators concluded any change in the status quo could only be bad for Israel.

“The peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these relations will continue to exist,” Mr Netanyahu told ministers yesterday, stressing Israel’s top priority was to maintain regional stability and security.

After talking with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, US president Barack Obama and secretary of state Hilary Clinton, Mr Netanyahu held top-level consultations. Fearing any Israeli expressions of support may further undermine Mr Mubarak’s precarious position, he then ordered ministers to refrain from commenting publicly on the unfolding events.

Despite refusing to visit Israel – except to attend the funeral of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 – and public criticism of Israeli policy, Mr Mubarak has steadfastly upheld the peace treaty signed between the two countries in 1979, has kept the border quiet and regularly hosts visits from Israeli leaders.

Jerusalem’s immediate concern is regime change in Egypt may result in a new leadership less friendly – or even hostile – towards Israel. The nightmare scenario, from Israel’s perspective, is that the Muslim Brotherhood will either seize power outright or play a role in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

This would jeopardise the peace between Israel and its most important Arab neighbour, and put an end to bilateral co-operation in preventing arms smuggling into Gaza from the Egyptian Sinai.

If Israel’s friendly relations with Egypt were to end, a strategic rethink would be required by Israel’s military. The relatively quiet border with Egypt has allowed Israel to focus on the potential threats from Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran and Syria. After 30 years, Israel may once again be forced to contemplate the possibility of a “southern front”. Another worry is the “domino effect” that hit Cairo after Tunis may continue to Ramallah and Amman.

The loss of Egypt as an ally would be the latest in a series of setbacks for Israel: falling out with Turkey; the ongoing Iranian threat; deadlock in peace contacts on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks; the Iranian-Syrian alliance; and the predominance of Hizbullah in Lebanon.