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Israel's Ikhwan mantra

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Netanyahuby Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem

With the popular Egyptian revolution against the Mubarak regime entering its third consecutive week, Israeli leaders continued to invoke the mantra of the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimoun), fearing that the inclusion of the hitherto-outlawed group into any post-Mubarak government in Egypt could seriously undermine Israeli interests.

Israel has been explicitly urging Western powers, particularly the US Obama administration, not to abandon Hosni Mubarak, arguing that his unpopular regime is vital for safeguarding Israeli and Western interests in the region.

Ideally, Israel would like to see any regime in Cairo maintain the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, refrain from seriously interfering with Israeli policies and practices against the Palestinians, and keep Islamist influence in the region at bay.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, probably for the fifth time since the outbreak of massive demonstrations against Mubarak on 25 January, has once again warned against the prospect of Egypt falling into the hands of radical Islamists.

"Egypt can choose a state with secular reforms. However, there is also another possibility that the Islamists will exploit the situation in order to gain governance over the country and lead it backwards," he said.

Overlooking the fundamental religious and cultural differences between Egypt and Iran, Netanyahu said a third possibility was that Egypt would go in the direction of Iran, adding that in this case the presumed new rulers would oppress the country and threaten surrounding countries.

"Our real fear, however, is the emergence of a regime of radical Islam," Netanyahu said.

Other Israeli leaders have made myriad comments on the situation in Egypt, with the outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi interpreting the Egyptian revolution as clear proof that "extremists are coming" and that Israel should get ready for war.

Shaul Mofaz, the number-two leader in the opposition party, Kadima, voiced his fear that the unrest in Egypt could create a domino effect in the region.

"In the light of recent events, the importance of the peace process is increased. I believe in the peace process, and time is acting against both Israel and the Palestinians. We should enter direct talks with no preconditions with the Palestinians," Mofaz said.

Like other Israeli leaders, Mofaz is widely considered to be a war criminal for his role in the killing and maiming of thousands of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip when he acted as both chief of staff and Israeli defence minister.

Former deputy defense minister Efraim Sneh, an erstwhile Labour Party leader, warned against allowing Egypt to get too close to the Gaza Strip.

While recognising that a military confrontation with a new Egypt was a remote possibility, he said Israelis ought to keep in mind that Egypt would not be as it was before.

"The regime as we know it now will be no more. No matter which regime takes over, its level of commitment to the peace agreements with Israel will be lower," Sneh said.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres continued to heap praise on Mubarak whose "cold peace" with Israel, Peres said, had made Israelis ask whether "with friends like this, who needs enemies."

Speaking during a banquet in occupied Jerusalem this week, Peres said a pro-peace undemocratic regime was better for Israeli interests than an anti-peace democratic regime in Egypt.

"In spite of all the attacks against President Mubarak, I have known him for many years, throughout his presidency, and I accredit him as being one of the persons who saved many lives by preventing war in the Middle East and who saved the lives of Egyptians, Arabs and Israelis."

Peres dismissed the Egyptian people's ability to turn their country into a genuinely democratic one where the government is answerable to the people.

"Elections in Egypt are dangerous. Should the Muslim Brotherhood be elected, it will not bring peace. Democracy without peace is not democracy. We fear there will be a change in government without a change in the circumstances which led to the situation," he said.

Like other Israeli leaders, Peres seems to equate acceptance of the continuity of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories with a genuine desire of peace.

Peres, like many of his colleagues, is also considered a war criminal for his role in the Qana Massacre in Southern Lebanon in the spring of 1996, when he, as Israeli prime minister, ordered his army to bombard Lebanese civilians who had sought refuge and protection at a UN peacekeepers' headquarters in the village of Qana. More than 100 innocent civilians were massacred.

For their part, Israeli commentators already feel there is a "psychological coup" in the Middle East militating against Israel.

Moreover, the Israeli media is anticipating that the ongoing unrest in Egypt will have an "emboldening effect" on the Palestinians in general, including the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. This explains the numerous ostensibly "conciliatory" statements made by Israeli officials calling for the resumption of stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

"To our Palestinian neighbours, I say: Let us go towards compromise together," Peres was quoted as saying.

However, such statements should be viewed against a backdrop of the further seizure of Arab property in East Jerusalem, more house demolitions, and further expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Apart from its strategic goals in Egypt, especially having Cairo serve as a regional magnet for "moderate" Arab regimes that accept Israel as a de facto friend and even ally, Israel would like to see at least one of its main objectives accomplished immediately.

Egypt, Israel hopes, must see to it that no weapons are smuggled into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

In the long run, Israel is also worried that a new regime in Egypt might be more meticulous in holding Israel to account for any perceived violations of the Camp David Treaty, such as the vast expansion of Jewish settlements and the possible recurrence of an all-out Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip.

Nonetheless, it seems that with Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman now earmarked as the leader of a caretaker government in Cairo, the Israelis are achieving greater mental equanimity since Suleiman is believed to have had friendly contacts with the Israeli intelligence services.


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