JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced understanding for pro-democracy protests in Egypt for the first time on Tuesday, but reiterated Israel’s fear they could put a radical Islamist regime in power.
Netanyahu “encourages the advancement of free and democratic values in the Middle East,” a statement said, adding that as in a 1979 Islamist revolt in Iran, toppling pro-Western President Hosni Mubarak may also prove “a blow to peace and democracy.”
The statement was issued as Israeli experts increasingly saw Mubarak’s regime, a longtime ally of Israel, as threatened by the weeklong wave of protests sweeping Egypt, and the anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood as a possible ruling alternative.
Netanyahu said in consultations held on Monday it was “in Israel’s interests to preserve the peace with Egypt,” the statement issued later by his office said, referring to a treaty signed in 1979, Israel’s first with an Arab state.
“Israel believes that the global community must demand that any Egyptian government preserve the peace treaty with Israel,” the statement added.
Some Israeli analysts envisaged a possibility of Mubarak surviving in power at least through an election held later this year, unless the Egyptian military brass still seen as faithful changed its allegiance as a result of the continuing unrest.
“He is fighting for his political survival and the chances don’t look good,” said Moshe Maoz, a veteran expert on Middle Eastern affairs and of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Maoz saw top military officers possibly sticking by Mubarak or a handpicked successor, at least through an election later this year, to avoid a rise to power by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which many Israelis see as Egypt’s best organised opposition force.
Editing by Ralph Boulton