The prospect of a new regime in Egypt has huge implications for countries across the region, in particular Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged his cabinet, as well as the US and the EU, not to criticise the embattled Egyptian president too heavily. In doing this, Netanyahu says he wants to maintain stability in the region.
And well he might.
If, and it looks increasingly likely, power changes hands in Egypt, Israel will have to revise its security strategy from top to bottom.
Egypt has been described as Israel’s only Arab “friend”. But “non-enemy” is perhaps a more accurate term. A peace treaty signed in 1979 has meant that Israel has not had to worry too much about its southern border and has been able to focus its military in the north, near Lebanon and around the West Bank.
Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak has adhered to this peace deal despite Israel’s conflicts with other Arab neighbours and despite hostility towards the treaty from many Egyptians. If, or rather when, Mubarak relinquishes power, it is not impossible that whoever emerges as his successor in Cairo could rip the treaty up. Israel would be left isolated.
The great fear in Israel is that a regime change in Egypt would have the same consequences as the regime change in Iran in 1979, the shockwaves of which continue to be felt across the world.
Earlier this month, when the chances of Mubarak being ousted were still remote, Netanyahu alluded to this. He said:
“There’s a country with which we had tremendously close relations. We had the exchange of the leaderships; there were exchanges between our security forces, economic trade. That country is called Iran. And that changed overnight.”
Some observers insist the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is not in any real danger.
Professor Elie Podeh, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is among them.
“The peace treaty in general is in the interests of Egypt in general, whatever its regime, because the United States is granting Egypt more than two billion dollars annually in economic and military aid,” he says.
That may well be the case but one month ago, few people would have bet that the question would even arise. Events in Tunisia and then Egypt show that anything is possible.
Another fear felt by Israel is that the ‘wind of change’ blowing across North Africa reaches further into the Middle East. To Jordan for example.
As Herb Keinon reports in the Jerusalem Post, Jordan could well be the next Egypt, just as Egypt was the next Tunisia.
If the kingdom of Jordan loses its King, who is to say extremists backed by Iran won’t jump into the vacant throne?
There are many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’; the only thing that is certain now is uncertainty. And if there’s one thing no government likes, it’s uncertainty.