Israel Asks West to Help Guard Pact With Egypt

Israel Asks West to Help Guard Pact With Egypt –

The Israeli question – something I did not think could “hide” for very long.


JERUSALEM—Unnerved by the quickening collapse of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Israel is pressing the U.S. and other Western leaders to demand that any successor in Egypt preserve that country’s peace accord with the Jewish state.

The diplomatic push, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comes as Israel’s top security officials are huddled in strategy sessions to reassess their most important Middle East relationship, one that has helped Israel weather decades of sporadic conflicts with militant Islamist groups backed by Syria and Iran.

Egypt’s transition to a new and still-uncertain leadership, Mr. Netanyahu told his parliament Wednesday, conceals a struggle between democratic and Islamist forces that could tip the balance of an increasingly hostile region more firmly against Israel.

“There are two worlds, two opposites, two world views,” he said. “One of the free world. The democratic. And one of the radical world. Which world view will win?”

“It could be,” he added, “that there won’t be a decisive end for a long while and there could be ongoing instability for many years.”

The prospect of prolonged uncertainty has led some Israeli officials to suggest that the country might be forced to significantly expand its army and defense spending, and to abandon what little efforts Mr. Netanyahu’s government has made to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians on creating their own state.

“It’s very scary what’s happening in Egypt, especially for Israel,” said Adva Gilboa, a 33-year-old store manager in the town of Kiryat Tivon, reflecting the Israeli public’s heightened fears for the survival of their state. “Mubarak was good for Israel, maybe not for Egyptians.”

The 1979 peace treaty, achieved after a generation of sporadic wars along the lengthy Israeli-Egypt border and defended by Mr. Mubarak against popular disapproval at home, has given Israel a relatively quiet southern flank.

On Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu led a round of urgent consultations with senior intelligence analysts and cabinet officials to evaluate events in Egypt. Shaul Mofaz, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called for a full-scale “strategic review” of threats Israel faces.

Officials here say they are helpless to control events in Egypt. Israeli leaders have refrained from commenting on how soon Mr. Mubarak should step down or who should replace him.

Instead, officials say Israel has limited itself to reminding Western allies of the importance of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Mr. Netanyahu pressed the point in a meeting here this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and in phone calls to U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli officials said.

“What else can we do?” said one senior Israeli official, who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about Egypt. “We’re spectators. Everyone’s a spectator.”

In his speech, Mr. Netanyahu drew parallels between Egypt’s transition and Iran’s revolution in 1979, when an ostensibly democratic revolt against the shah gave way to a Muslim theocracy.

“The optimistic scenario, which undoubtedly unites us all, is that these hopes for democracy and peace will be realized in Egypt,” he said. But he quickly added that Iran’s leaders want to take advantage of the turmoil in Egypt to promote the rise of a similar regime there.

Israeli officials have been alarmed by how swiftly events have unfolded in Egypt and how swiftly, in their view, the Obama administration and other Western governments have appeared to withdraw their long-standing support for Mr. Mubarak. Until this week, Israeli officials had been saying the 82-year-old Egyptian leader could weather the protests against him.

“For many people in the West, the upheaval in Egypt is like 1989 in Europe,” the senior Israeli official said, referring to the collapse of Communism and the rise of democratic rule in much of Eastern Europe. “We’re concerned that it’s like 1979 in Tehran.”

If Egypt comes under leadership hostile to Israel, the official said, “that would be a real game changer” that would upend the regional balance.

Israelis are already worried that Jordan, the other Arab nation with a peace treaty with the Jewish state, would come under growing pressure to abandon the deal. Jordan’s King Abdullah II dismissed his Cabinet on Tuesday after weeks of demonstrations challenging his regime.

Israel’s adversaries in the region, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, view the massive protests in Egypt and Jordan as a sign of the weakening position of the Jewish state along with that of its American ally.

“As long as the people have a major say in the future [of the Middle East], then you are going to have a minor say, in the United States,” Mr. Assad said in an interview Sunday in Damascus.


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