Powerless, the Israelis can only watch and wait. They are helpless as an Egyptian regime they thought they could rely on as a regional ally teeters on the brink.
While keeping a low public profile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration has reportedly urged Israel’s US and European allies to curb their criticism of President Mubarak.
“I remind you that the peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for over three decades,” Netanyahu told his cabinet ministers, in public remarks. “It is our goal to ensure that these relations will continue to exist.”
The reality is that there has been a surge of anxiety in Israel since Egypt’s unrest began. Concerns are reflected in headlines like “A New Middle East”, in one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, Haaretz.
Egypt, the most populous Arab state, was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, bringing more than 30 years of war between them to an end.
Only Jordan followed suit, in 1994, after the Oslo accords, with no such understanding reached between Israel and its other Arab neighbours.
The momentum of Oslo itself was scuppered by numerous obstacles between Israel and the Palestinians.
Egypt’s mediation efforts between the two were complicated when Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. Cairo is wary of the Islamist movement because of its links with the Muslim Brotherhood, the bete noire of the Mubarak regime.
Israel is concerned that the unrest could bring the Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and biggest Islamist organisation, to power. Hostile to Israel, it wants Egypt run according to Islamic law.
In this context, the nomination of Omar Suleiman as Egypt’s new Vice President has reassured Israel a little. He has good ties with the country which he has visited many times. Should he replace Hosni Mubarak, continuity and stability would be assured.
“The generals of the present regime are committed to peace, are committed to the relations with the United States and the West,” said Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. “The point is, the big question is, what will happen after the elections. Who will come to power?”
Amid political changes in Lebanon which have strengthened pro-Iranian Hezbollah and amid strained relations with Turkey, Israel now fears even greater isolation.