CAIRO - Israel has become a punchbag for politicians vying for votes in Egypt's presidential race, playing on popular antipathy in Egypt towards its neighbor, but the realities of office are likely to ensure a 33-year-old peace treaty is not jeopardized.

An ex-air force commander in the race boasts of bringing down Israeli aircraft in 1973, the last of Egypt's four wars with Israel. One Islamist often refers to Israel as the "Zionist entity," rather than by name, and describes it as an "enemy."

A leftist candidate pledges to support the Palestinian resistance against Israel, where officials have watched Egypt's political turmoil with increasing wariness after the downfall of Mubarak who oversaw a cold yet stable peace.

None of the candidates want to tear up the document signed in 1979 but they repeatedly warn in rallies and debates it should be reviewed. Many of them grumble at provisions in the US-brokered deal they say are biased in Israel's favor.

Yet, beyond the bluster of the campaign trail, the next president's in-tray will be full of more pressing issues such reviving an economy on the ropes.

He will also preside over a nation where the entrenched establishment of the army and security services who kept the peace secure is still in tact, putting a brake on any actions that could put the deal at risk.

"Of course Israel is an enemy. It occupied land, it threatened our security. It is an entity that has 200 nuclear warheads," Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh said in a TV debate when asked about Israel, referring to a nuclear arsenal Israel is believed to possess but neither confirms nor denies having.

Seeking to trip up his opponent in the novel TV face-off in a nation that has never had an open leadership contest, Abol Fotouh pressed former Arab League chief Amr Moussa on whether he too classed Israel an enemy. Moussa chose the term "adversary."

Moussa, who like Abol Fotouh is a front-runner in the race, was Mubarak's foreign minister in the 1990s before moving to the League. In both posts he was a vocal critic of Israel.

An Israeli newspaper commentator wrote last month that Moussa had intense "disdain" for Israel.

"I intend to review the shape of relations," Moussa pledged, describing "very big disagreements." However, he said the next president would need to lead Egypt "with wisdom and not push it along with slogans towards a confrontation we may not be ready for."

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