Israel's day of reckoning: Israel braces for a 'complete break' with peace partner Egypt after three decades as the wave of turbulence sweeping the Arab nation thrusts the Muslim Brotherhood into prominence.

Author:Blanche, Ed
Position:Current Affairs/REGIONAL - Essay
 
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A year after President Hosni Mubarak was driven from power, the continuing unrest in Egypt is causing political palpitations in Israel amid fears its historic 1979 peace treaty with its neighbour is heading for the scrap heap.

With the Sinai Peninsula falling into the grip of Islamist militants professing loyalty to Al Qaeda, Israel faces having those vast desert wastes in which it fought five wars turned once again into a battleground, requiring a new army to protect a border peaceful since 1979.

With Islamists making unprecedented electoral gains in Egypt, as well as Morocco and Tunisia, Israelis see their entire geopolitical strategy in the Middle East, all of it underpinned by that first 1979 treaty with an Arab state, unravelling.

"We could find ourselves in an Islamic lake," warned Professor Eitan Inbar, director of Israel's Begin-Sadat Centre think-tank. "Turkey is not our friend ... Syria was not our friend and will not be our friend under a new regime with an Islamic influence. Lebanon is controlled by Hizbullah. Sinai could turn into Somalia."

The 1979 treaty has never been popular with the vast majority of Egypt's 82 million people, although Mubarak was one of its most enthusiastic advocates, chiefly because of the $1 billion in US military aid the treaty brings in every year; the access to US hi-tech weaponry (although there are limits to what Cairo can acquire because the Americans will not jeopardise Israel's security); and because by tacit agreement the US never seriously leaned on him to introduce political reforms as they did with less fortunate Arab dictators.

But those days are gone and there's no sign they will ever return in an Arab world caught in the birth pangs of a new, more democratic, era.

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Treaty 'not sacred'

The caretaker military regime in Cairo has made no overt move to scrap the treaty, although officials say "it is not sacred" and amendments may be sought. An Islamist-dominated government--if the military ever allows it--would almost certainly seek to repuditiate it.

Rashad Bayoumi, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist winner in the parliamentary polls and no supporter of the peace pact, declared on 1 January the movement does not plan to recognise Israel when it forms a government and will put the treaty to a referendum. "We will not recognise Israel under any circumstances," Bayoumi told the London based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. "We're talking about an occupation entity and...

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