Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer Photo by AP
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Hosni Mubarak realizes he must step down and is looking for an honorable way out, a former Israeli defense minister who has long known Egypt's embattled leader said Friday.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of the Labor Party said he spoke with Mubarak just hours before the Egyptian president's speech late Thursday in which he transferred some authorities to his deputy but refused to step down.

Mubarak's refusal angered hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters demanding he relinquish his three-decade grip on power. Anti-government demonstrations have rocked Egypt for more than two weeks, and protesters flooded the streets again Friday.

Describing his conversation with Mubarak, Ben-Eliezer said: "He knew that this was it, that this was the end of the road."

"He was looking for only one thing - give me an honorable way out. Let me leave in an honorable fashion," Ben-Eliezer told Israel's Army Radio.

In Israel, there is a concern that the disappearance of Mubarak from the political stage could mean a breakdown of order in Egypt or the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best-organized opposition group.

Both scenarios could threaten Israel's security. Egypt signed a peace treaty with neighboring Israel in 1979.