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Overcoming Fear and Anxiety in Tel Aviv
The revolt against President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt invokes fear and anxiety among Israelis. Mubarak, Israel’s oldest neighbor, is suddenly moving out, and Israelis are afraid of the consequences: Who will be the new tenants next door? Will they keep the long-standing peace treaty with Israel? Is a new Iran emerging across the border, with the long-forgotten southern front coming back to life? To a nation built around survival, these questions are extremely worrying.
True to form, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has highlighted those fears in public, particularly the threat of Egypt turning into a new Iran. Yet a more optimistic analysis suggests that the Israeli government could leverage the Egyptian crisis to seek new opportunities -- a window to restart the peace process with the Palestinians or Syria, or a chance to support the spread of democracy in the region. Israel's establishment, however, has thus far opted for entrenchment.
For three decades, Mubarak has been a fixture of Israel’s geostrategic landscape. Israel replaced eight prime ministers, fought several wars, and engaged in peace talks with multiple partners, and Mubarak was always there. He personified regional stability.
To be sure, Mubarak has kept his distance from Israel. Unlike his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, who came to Jerusalem to make peace, Mubarak stubbornly refused to pay an official visit to Israel, coming only once to attend Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral and insisting at the time that "this is not a visit." Mubarak’s governments were vocally critical of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and waged endless diplomatic campaigns against Israel's nuclear program.
But Israeli leaders were willing to accept these minor insults, knowing that Israel had no better ally than Mubarak on big-picture issues. They could go to war in Lebanon and Gaza and expand the West Bank settlements, freed from having to devote a substantial force to the southern front.