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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses parliament in Jerusalem on February 2, 2011. Netanyahu cautioned that the massive anti-government uprising sweeping through Egypt could destabilise the region "for many years."

Lior Mizrahi/AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli media are covering the events in the Arab world breathlessly. There's widespread admiration for the Egyptians' courage, and empathy with their plight.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, usually a professional pessimist, found positive things to say about the events unfolding to the south: "All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt," he said during a speech to the Knesset. A reformed Egypt could even "be a beacon of hope for the world," he said. "Stronger foundations for democracy make stronger the foundations for peace."

Despite that, in Israel, there is much more fear than faith.

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Commentators and policy makers aren't happy that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of Israel's staunchest allies, is on the way out. To them, the developments in Egypt are part of a broader trend: All over the Middle East, moderate regimes are collapsing while Israel's former allies are turning into foes. Very soon, Israel could become more isolated than it has ever been.

Fear in Israel stems from experience, and a pessimistic analysis of facts. In a nation whose psyche was shaped by the Holocaust, worst-case scenarios are often assumed to be likely ones.

But ever since Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, even the army stopped preparing for an all-out war on three fronts. Egypt, the most populous Arab country with the most powerful and modern Arab army, seemed to be out of the war game for good. But with Mr. Mubarak soon gone, Israel may have to reconsider.

Military sources have leaked that they would have to invest heavily in the ground forces were they asked to prepare for such a scenario. That would quash the "peace dividend" that came from downsizing the army in the 1990s, which helped propel Israel's economy into the 21st century.

While an all-out war seems unlikely, the deeper concern is over what sort of regime will take shape in Egypt.

Most analysts here believe that a democratic Egypt would quickly fall prey to the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most disciplined opposition group. This is just what happened in the Palestinian election that led to the takeover by the radical-Islamic Hamas, an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The brotherhood's estimated 600,000 members in Egypt espouse a charter that seeks to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel. Its delegates in parliament have repeatedly demanded Israel's ambassador be expelled from Cairo.

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The end of a peace treaty would not have a major direct economic impact on Israel: Trade totals an insignificant $250-million (U.S.) annually with Egypt. But in another way the crisis could cost dearly.

Israel is by far the most affluent nation to share a land border with Africa and is a magnet for refugees - more than a thousand refugees make it across the Israeli-Egyptian border every month. In the past, Egypt's army has attempted to stop them, but a hostile regime in Cairo, or an ineffective one, could turn this steady trickle into a flood that inundates Israel's welfare systems.

While the refugees would be a burden, the ramifications for Israel's security are potentially devastating. A March, 2010, Muslim Brotherhood statement declared that "it is now obligatory to support the Palestinian armed resistance by all means so that they may withstand and defend the dignity of the nation."

It would be easy for Egypt to do so: Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip, where Hamas has entrenched itself, will be effective only as long as Egypt plays along. In fact, Mr. Mubarak had come to recognize Hamas as an existential threat to his regime, and invested huge efforts to stop the smuggling of weapons through Sinai. To seriously harm Israel, all an Egyptian government would have to do would be to look the other way as Iran smuggles ever more lethal missiles with ever larger ranges into Gaza.

Just as unsettling is the potential diplomatic fallout of regime change in Cairo. Jerusalem has already lost many important allies in the region. The Shah's Iran was replaced by an Islamic Republic that openly calls for Israel's demise. Turkey, once Israel's strategic hinterland, has switched allegiances and now supports Hamas. Mr. Mubarak was the last dam holding back Islamization, Israel believes.

As WikiLeaks documents have confirmed, Mr. Mubarak regarded Iran as the largest menace to Sunni regimes, and acted accordingly. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the most important Arab backers of pro-Western forces all over the region. Without Cairo throwing its weight behind these forces, Israelis fear a domino effect.

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Already, Lebanon has fallen to a prime minister propped up by Hezbollah, a Shia militia financed, armed and trained by Iran and considered to be one of Israel's most formidable foes. But the effect extends everywhere: A Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo would be a significant boost for Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, destabilizing King Abdullah II.

If the King fell, Israel would lose its last ally in this region. Rather than only feeling isolated, Israel would then truly be alone.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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