JERUSALEM: After the Tunisian revolution and the emergence of a Hezbollah-backed government in Lebanon, Israel is confronting another jolt to the system in Egypt, its partner in its most important Middle East relationship.
The upheavals could have a momentous impact on Israel's future. Often an important player, it now finds itself in the unnerving role of spectator. "When we say we are following events closely," said an Israeli official, "that is the truth. There is not much else we can do."
Israel has a special stake in Egypt's stability. They share a long border and signed a historic peace treaty in 1979, a cornerstone of the regional balance that has endured more than 30 years.
Though the peace, Israel's first with an Arab partner, has remained cold (Egyptian civil society still boycotts Israel), the relationship is viewed in Israel as critical. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, confers regularly with Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak.
"Egypt is not only our closest friend in the region, the co-operation between us goes beyond the strategic," said Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defence minister known for his close ties to Egyptian officials.
Israeli officials and analysts said they believed Mr Mubarak's government was strong enough to withstand the protests, at least as long as it had the backing of the army. But with Mr Mubarak, who came to power in 1981, now an ailing octogenarian, Israelis are looking to a transition, amid a sense of a shifting regional equilibrium.
Israelis speak of two arcs in the region: a northern, Iranian-oriented one including Iran, Syria and now Lebanon; and a more moderate, southern arc spanning North Africa, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states.
"We see the northern arc growing in strength and the southern arc in a very volatile period," said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan. "While we should all congratulate the forces calling for more democracy, if this is the case," he added, noting that the opposition in Egypt includes Islamic fundamentalists, "for now, the effect is destabilising."
Israelis do not yet see a future without the treaty with Egypt. Mr Eran said that almost any government in Egypt would want to maintain the pact, even at a low profile, because so much depends on it, including Egypt's relations with, and aid from, the US.
The New York Times