Joy in Egypt but uncertainty elsewhere

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 17, 2011
Young Egyptians celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

Young Egyptians celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

The announcement that the Supreme Council of the armed forces was taking control in Egypt for the duration of the transition period to a new civilian government, reassured the Israeli leadership in the wake of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Despite initial efforts to mobilise international support for the embattled president, Israeli analysts had realised, perhaps belatedly, that the Mubarak era was finally over and that Israel would do best to lower its profile while the Egyptians muddle their way, hopefully, towards some form of democracy.

The defence and political establishment derived satisfaction especially from the fact that the army, now in control, is probably the wing of the Egyptian leadership with which Israel has the best relations.

The Egyptian army spokesman issued a statement almost immediately promising that Egypt would continue to adhere to all its "international and regional treaties," which was interpreted as a direct reference to the peace treaty with Israel.

Demonstrators out on streets in Yemen

Demonstrators out on streets in Yemen

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's defence minister, and for now at least, its temporary ruler, phoned his opposite number in Israel, Ehud Barak, to assure him that everything was under control.

Israel also extended some more tangible assistance to the Egyptian army, when it allowed a reinforcement of the forces stationed in Sinai, above the level permitted in the peace treaties, to help the Egyptian security forces deal with an outbreak of violence by the Bedouin tribes in the peninsula.

As things began to calm down in Cairo, Israeli leaders who had sounded distinctly jittery at the beginning of the "days of rage," allowed themselves some more optimism.

"Things have changed in Egypt," said Defence Minister Ehud Barak, during a visit to the Lebanese border on Tuesday, "but that doesn't mean we have to change anything and the peace treaty will remain."

Senior defence officials even began saying that the sequence of events in Egypt had proved how strong the co-ordination between the militaries of Israel, Egypt and the United States remained, throughout the political instability.

While the outcome of the Egyptian saga still remains unclear, Israeli intelligence experts have begun looking around the region for the wider implications. The main worry is a period of unrest that can shake another country with which Israel has peace - Jordan - but there are also some points of optimism.

The Palestinian Authority also has to worry about public dissatisfaction, and last week, President Mahmoud Abbas announced that elections would be held later this year. This week, he fired his cabinet. A period of inner Palestinian political activity could mean that at least for the next few months, Israel has slightly less to worry about.

But the brightest point of all could be a new round of violent demonstrations in the cities of Israel's most mortal enemy - Iran, where the pro-democracy supporters are on the march again calling for "death to the dictator."

"A revolution in Iran would of course be the best possible thing," said a senior Israeli official, "despite the fact that it doesn't seem as though the demonstrations there have reached a critical mass so far."

Last updated: 2:12pm, February 17 2011