Israel silent over Egypt protests

Egypt was the first Arab country to reach peace with Israel 3 decades ago.

Jerusalem: Israel`s Prime Minister ordered government spokesmen to keep silent on Saturday on anti-government protests in neighbouring Egypt. Security officials nonetheless expressed concern the violence could threaten ties with its important ally and spread to the Palestinian Authority.

Two Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered all government spokesmen not to comment on the mass riots in Egypt, where protesters are demanding President Hosni Mubarak resign after nearly 30 years in power. Both officials were speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There is a great concern about what is happening in Egypt," one senior diplomatic official said. "We are following very closely the events and are analysing them as they occur."

The officials said they expect Mubarak to survive the unrest but that it could damage ties with Israel if the country`s popular opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, makes gains.

Egypt was the first Arab country to reach peace with Israel three decades ago. It remains one of Israel`s most important allies by acting as a bridge to the wider Arab world.

It is experiencing the fiercest anti-government protests in years, threatening to destabilise Mubarak`s regime.

The Israeli security officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were worried that violence might spread to Gaza, the West Bank, and possibly to its other ally in the Arab world, Jordan.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control in bloody street battles from the rival Palestinian Fatah party in 2007. Israeli security officials on Saturday said they are worried Gaza militants might take advantage of the chaos and breach the border with Gaza.

The Egyptian protesters are raging over the government`s neglect of poverty, unemployment and rising prices.

Mubarak took power in the wake of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who reached peace with Israel. Mubarak has preserved that agreement, turning himself into a force of moderation and Western bulwark in a region where Islamic radicals have gained increasing strength.

Eli Shaked, a former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, told Channel 10 TV on Saturday that if Mubarak`s reign is destabilised, radical Egyptian Islamists could fill the void.

"It`s good that Israel is keeping quiet, but there is no doubt that what is happening in Egypt is not good for Israeli interests," Shaked said. "It will only be a matter of time before a leader of the revolution arises and he will come from the Muslim Brotherhood, they are the ones that will take advantage of the situation," Shaked said.

Palestinian officials in the West Bank and Gaza refused to comment.

Bureau Report