Egyptian Upheaval Has Implications For Israel

The uprising in Egypt has potentially profound implications for Israel. Egypt is a moderating force in the Arab world. It was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel and has been active in promoting Israeli talks with the Palestinians.

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Leaders across the Middle East are monitoring the situation in Egypt, and nowhere have the events been watched with more trepidation than in Israel.

Sheera Frenkel reports from Jerusalem.

SHEERA FRENKEL: Outside the ministries housing Israel's top officials, lights can be seen burning round the clock. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his government to come up with contingency plans for every possible scenario that could emerge from the upheaval in Egypt.

The foreign ministry, defense ministry and the heads of the IDF are meeting every two hours, according to a government official who briefed reporters off the record.

Few are speaking publicly about the risk to Israel, should Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, be overthrown. Egypt is the cornerstone of Israel's diplomatic regional policies.

Mr. ZVI MAZEL (Former Ambassador to Egypt): Mubarak kept peace, maintained peace. He was a very balanced and stable man. When he changes, when we see the chaos in Egypt, we are afraid.

FRENKEL: That's Zvi Mazel, one of the Israeli officials with the most experience in Egypt. He helped set up the first diplomatic mission there in 1980 and served as an ambassador to Egypt from 1996 to 2001.

He recalls the early days. Israel's peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 returned the Sinai to Egypt on condition it remain demilitarized and was the first time in the history of the Jewish state that it gave back land. Through Egypt, said Mazel, Israel hoped to establish a New Middle East.

Mr. MAZEL: All of us, we were very optimist. We told ourselves, since Egypt took this very important decision to stop war with Israel and to begin a new era of diplomatic relations - I mean, after its transitional period, everything would be okay.

FRENKEL: He said that the uprising in Egypt left Israel facing the possible return to a situation pre-1979. If the Mubarak regime falls, Mazel said, the new government could choose to ignore the peace deals forged between Israel and Egypt.

Sheikh Fadel Hamdan is a Palestinian lawmaker from Hamas. He said that a more immediate threat to Israel would be for Egypt to change its policy on the Gaza Strip, or shift alliances in the Arab world.

Mr. SHEIKH FADEL HAMDAN (Palestinian Lawmaker): (Through translator) All the people in the Arab world are looking with great interest at the developments in Egypt. If things change in Egypt, this will have a positive impact on the whole Arab world, especially in Gaza.

FRENKEL: What Hamdan sees as a positive impact is the opening of crossings to Gaza that would allow people and goods to travel freely. Under Mubarak, Egypt assisted Israel in enforcing a strict blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today said in a statement that he was anxiously monitoring what is happening in Egypt. He added that Israel's efforts were aimed at maintaining stability and security.

Israeli newspapers report that the government has been quietly sending out messages to the United States and other Western countries that Mubarak should be supported at all costs. Netanyahu's office also confirmed that Israel was allowing the Egyptian military to deploy in the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the two countries signed the 1979 Peace Treaty.

Zvi Mazel, the former ambassador to Egypt, said that Israel was doing everything in its power to de-escalate the situation.

Mr. MAZEL: We know now - we understand that trigger - the last trigger was Tunisia. But still, it was - it came very fast after Tunisia. We were surprised, absolutely.

FRENKEL: Israeli officials are now busy monitoring other countries, among them, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, to see if the revolutionary spirit spreads to its neighbors.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Jerusalem.

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