Israel's concerns over new Egyptian dawn

Ahmed Eleiba , Monday 7 Feb 2011

Experts spell out to Ahram Online how developments in Egypt are being seen in Israel which anticipated suck a revolt

In a speech last week to the Israeli Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "We must strive for a stable peace with determination, caution, responsibility, and, above all, with watchful eyes that recognize reality."

Over the past ten days, many Israeli officials could not hide their worries over how a new Egyptian president could approach relations with Israel.

Israeli commentators have been expressing their belief that Israel should have been prepared for that day, a day when President Hosni Mubarak leaves office.

An op-ed in Israeli daily Haartez describes the mood of the country's leadership as it watches the events unfolding in Egypt: "It varies from gloom to doom."

“It is not true that the Israeli government was surprised by the youth revolution in Egypt, they were observing closely everything happening in Cairo,” argued Tarek Fahmi, director of the Israeli department at The National Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

He added, in an interview with Ahram Online, that Egypt’s future after Mubarak was at the top of the Israeli intelligence and intellectual community's agenda for the past three years.

In 2008, he adds, a study conducted by the Israeli intelligence’s think tank offered a detailed analysis of the expected scenarios on who would replace Mubarak and the role of the military establishment in the power transition.   

According to the study, there are two challenges facing a peaceful transition: the legal contexts and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The study proposed four scenarios for Mubarak's leaving power. These included a popular revolution led by Egypt’s youth, workers and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Israeli government's main concern is that whoever succeeds Mubarak could violate the security arrangements stipulated in the Camp David peace accords between the two countries. This fear is given greater credence by the fact that some Egyptian parliamentarians have, in the last couple of years, raised that prospect.

“Israel will ask every friend it has in the EU to press the new Egyptian president to show commitment to the border security arrangements between Egypt and Israel and between Egypt and Gaza,” Fahmy said.

He added that Vice President Omar Suleiman is viewed in Israel as a strong and serious man who would be a "trustworthy allied president". Circles in Tel Aviv believe him to be far superior to the prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

At the popular level, Israel fears the Egyptian agenda which had been contained for the past 30 years. Tied into this sentiment are Israel's economic deals that they are keen to secure.

“Tel Aviv expects that the Egyptian opposition will press the new Egyptian president to give up on the Quiz agreement and gas exporting deal as well as the joint security pact signed between the two countries,” Fahmy added.

But Safwat Al Zayat, a political expert, regards this as unlikely. The US is paying close attention to developments on the ground and a new Egyptian government will be too busy to revise these deals. "The first three to four years will be devoted to the rebuilding process." 

Moreover, Al Zayat believes that any future government will still to have to tinker with the US Adminstration and they are honest brokers who would preserve Israel's interests.

And besides, Zayat views these international agreements as non-negotiable. There is room, though, in bilateral agreements such as the Quiz and gas export deals.

“Only the Quiz and gas exports could be affected, but that's not likely,” he added.

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