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Revolt threatens historic Israeli peace treaty

A protester in Cairo holds a sketch depicting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with a Star of David on his forehead. The caption reads: "Thirty years of devastation and treason."

It refers, not only to Mr. Mubarak's more than 30-year tyrannical rule, but also to the historic peace agreement his predecessor signed in 1979 and he continued with Israel.

If the sketch is anything to go by in gauging Egypt's future relationship with its northern neighbour in the likely event of Mr. Mubarak's downfall, Israel has reason to fear the treaty is in jeopardy.

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"The peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these relations will continue to exist," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet, in his first public comments on the Egyptian protests that began on Tuesday.

"At this time, we must show responsibility, restraint and maximum consideration," said Mr. Netanyahu, who asked members of his government not to comment on the situation in Egypt.

Indeed, it's wise to refrain from making provocative remarks.

Although there were very few anti-Israel slogans during the Egyptian protests over the past six days, and despite the long peace treaty, the Egyptian public is one of the most hostile of Arabs toward Israel.

Their anger toward their government intensified a few years ago after it openly became an ally of the Israeli occupation in Palestinian territories, helping it maintain the brutal siege on Gaza.

"As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes," wrote respected columnist Gideon Levy in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty has allowed Israel to concentrate its forces on its northern front and around the Jewish settlements on Israeli occupied West Bank, and earlier in Gaza, enabling it to reduce its huge defence budget.

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Mr. Mubarak - who has worked with eight different Israeli prime ministers since he became president in 1981 - has also proven a reliable mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Mubarak's "fading power," said commentator Aluf Benn in Haaretz, "leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mr. Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East."

"If there's one thing shared by all factions of the Egyptian opposition, it is their seething hatred of Israel. Now their representatives will rise to power, and Israel will find itself in a difficult situation," Mr. Benn said.

"A real alliance with Egypt and its sister-states can only be based on the end of the occupation, as desired by the Egyptian people, and not on a common enemy, as an interest of its regime," he added, referring to Iran and fear of Islamic militancy.

Israel's alliance with Turkey collapsed last year in the aftermath of its raid on a Turkish aid flotilla trying to reach besieged Gaza. Relations with other strategic allies in the region - Jordan and the Palestinian Authority - do not enjoy joint security exercises on the scale with Egypt. Jordan's King Abdullah refuses to meet Mr. Netanyahu.

Israel's fear of increasing isolation in the region will force it to court new potential allies, including Syria, Mr. Benn said. Damascus, he said, will try to exploit Egypt's weakness and replace it as a regional power. "As long as the Arab world is flooded with waves of angry anti-government protests, [Syrian President Bashar]al-Assad and Netanyahu will be left to safeguard the old order of the Middle East," Mr. Benn said.

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The question is, however, whether Mr. al-Assad and his regime will be spared those upheavals.

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