Gaza Egypt Celebration 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel watched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation with trepidation Friday, concerned the ouster of its staunchest Arab ally might endanger a peace treaty between the two countries and help boost Islamists already on the rise in the region.
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The government declined comment on the announcement by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman that Mubarak decided to step down after three decades of iron-fisted rule.
The dramatic decision came after an 18-day popular revolt against the 82-year-old autocrat. The uprising was led by young secular Egyptians, with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, largely remaining in the background.
However, former officials expressed concern that regime change in Egypt,
as part of a wider transformation of the Arab world, could leave Israel
even more isolated. Last year, regional powerhouse Turkey shifted away
from its alliance with Israel.
"We have a tough period ahead of us," Zvi Mazel, a former ambassador in
Egypt, told Israel TV. "Iran and Turkey will consolidate positions
against us. Forget about the former Egypt. Now it's a completely new
reality, and it won't be easy."
Some in Israel feared the unrest could spread to neighboring Jordan, the
only other Arab country that has a peace deal with Israel, or to the
Palestinian territories. Only last month, an uprising in Tunisia ended
with the ouster of a longtime dictator there.
Former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer who was a long-time friend of Mubarak, said he was worried.
"From this day on, I only have lots of questions about what will be,
what will be the fate of the peace treaty between us and the Egyptians?"
Ben-Eliezer told Israel TV's Channel 10. "There are many questions that
we don't have answers for, how will this affect the entire region now?"
Still, the peace treaty with Israel was not raised by protesters during
the current uprising, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been vague on the
Israel and Egypt fought four bitter wars before a peace treaty was
reached in 1979. Mubarak steadfastly honored the deal after succeeding
Anwar Sadat who was assassinated by Egyptian extremists two years after
Dan Gillerman, a former envoy at the UN, said that if radicals prevail
in Egypt and elsewhere, it would be devastating for Israel and the
region. "At the end of the day what we are seeing in the Middle East is a
battle between the moderates and the extremists and I think it is in
everybody's interests that the moderates prevail," he told Fox News.
Military sources said they were worried that if a peace treaty isn't
kept, the military would have to reassess its deployment. They were
speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A strengthened Muslim Brotherhood could also affect the power struggle
between the two Palestinian political camps — Hamas in Gaza and
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Abbas is backed by the West, while Hamas draws its support from Iran,
Syria and Hizbullah. Hamas is the Gaza branch of the Muslim brotherhood
and could gain strength if their Egyptian brethren win a greater say.
In Gaza, thousands rushed into the streets in jubilation. Expectations
were rising in Gaza that regime change in Egypt will help end a crushing
border blockade of the territory, imposed by Egypt and Israel after a
violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.
"Egypt wrote today a new chapter in the history of the Arab nations and I
can see the blockade on Gaza shaking right now," said Gaza's Hamas
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Hamas has smuggled weapons into Gaza through smuggling tunnels that
bypass the blockade, and Israel fears the influx of arms could now