The principle guiding Israel’s policy during these days of crisis and uncertainty in Egypt is to preserve the 30-year-old peace agreement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday, breaking ranks with other world leaders who have unceremoniously abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
He also warned that extreme Islamic radicals could take advantage of the upheaval in the country and gain control of Egypt, just as they did in Iran in 1979.
Egypt on the mind as Merkel brings ministers to Israel
Diplomat slams German-Iranian trade ahead of Merkel trip
“More than 30 years ago there was a major change in our region,” Netanyahu said during a press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The biggest Arab state, the one that led wars against Israel, made peace with us, and that created a new space in the region, for us and for Egypt.”
Therefore, “our goal was, and remains, to preserve that peace,” he said. “None of us want to go back to those difficult days. And we are all watching with anxiety, worry and hope that the peace will be preserved.”
As reported in Monday’s Jerusalem Post, Israel has agreed to let Egypt move several hundred troops into the Sinai peninsula for the first time since the countries reached peace three decades ago.
About 800 soldiers entered Sinai on Sunday and will be based in Sharm e-Sheikh.
In the widest statements yet about the crisis in Egypt made by an Israeli leader, the prime minister said that Egypt has not violated the peace accord with Israel in the past, including over the past few days.
Netanyahu said that the situation in Egypt was “dynamic,” and that the concern was that in a situation where anything could develop before all the institutions of a democracy were in place, an extreme, totalitarian regime – like the one that emerged in Iran in 1979 – could emerge and threaten world peace and stability.
“That is my concern,” he said. “And I think it is a concern that unties many others. This is what we are looking at.”
The agitation in Tunisia and Egypt was not coming from radical Islamic sectors, Netanyahu said. But, “in a situation of chaos, organized Islamic elements can gain control of countries.
This happened in Iran, and also in other situations where organized elements gain control during a time of upheaval.”
Netanyahu referred to the period in 1917 in Russia where the democratic government of Alexander Kerensky held sway for a few months before being overrun by the Bolsheviks.
Turning to Merkel, Netanyahu said that her visit to Israel was taking place during a time a “large storms” in the region.
“In the vast space between Gibraltar and Pakistan there is one place where stability is not in doubt: Israel,” he said.
Merkel deflected criticism that the West had abandoned Mubarak.
“We did not abandon Egypt,” she said. “Our conversations with Mubarak about human rights, the right to vote and freedom of expression took place all the time.”
Merkel said she was not asking things of Egypt that were not asked in the past.
“We cannot say that certain principles apply to some countries, but not to others,” she said. “We believe in freedom of expression, press, the right of assembly. These are public assets and rights which are important in our eyes, and which every nation needs to adopt.”
Merkel said she spoke to Mubarak, and made clear that he had to start a dialogue with the opposition, “and with those among the people with complaints, and who were suffering from poverty and unemployment.”Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.