PM Warns Islamists Could Take Control in Egypt; Israel Approves Sinai Troops

During his meeting with Merkel, and in a subsequent press conference, Netanyahu stressed the fact that Israel is the only stable country in the Middle East and therefore the West must bolster ties with it.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned during his meeting yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem that the continued upheaval in Egypt may bring to power radical Islamic elements, a repeat of the scenario that occurred during the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Netanyahu relayed a similar message in a telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday night, and in conversations with other world leaders in recent days.

Egyptians demonstrating in Cairo yesterday, the seventh day of protests against President Hosni Mubarak and his government. A million people are expected in Tahrir Square for another protest today.Credit: AP

During his meeting with Merkel, and in a subsequent press conference, Netanyahu stressed two points to the West. First was the message that radical Islam may take over Egypt, and second, the fact that Israel is the only stable country in the Middle East and therefore the West must bolster ties with it.

"We are an island of stability in the region," Netanyahu told Merkel.

"Our concern is that when there are rapid changes, without all aspects of a modern democracy in place, what will happen - and it has happened already in Iran - will be the rise of an oppressive regime of radical Islam," Netanyahu told a press conference.

"Such a regime will crush human rights and will not allow democracy or freedom, and will constitute a threat to peace," the prime minister added.

Netanyahu said that the leaders with whom he spoke in recent days expressed a similar concern. "Everyone hopes that stability will be restored in Egypt, that the peace will be preserved and that the situation will be resolved in peaceful ways. The sources of unrest in Egypt are not radical Islam, but in a chaotic situation, an organized Islamist element can take over the country," he warned.

German diplomats said yesterday that grave concerns about developments in Egypt were raised in all meetings with their Israeli counterparts. "It sounds like the Israelis are terrified of what may happen in Egypt," one German diplomat said. "There is genuine concern about the fate of the peace agreement."

On Sunday night German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle met Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Tel Aviv.

"Israel is the sole genuine democracy in the region and therefore it is important to bolster our alliance," Lieberman told his German counterpart. "The situation in Egypt must be stabilized and pressure [on the regime] cannot be exaggerated. In the end it may result in a revolution that will bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power."

A similar concern was voiced by Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor, during his meeting with German Minister of State Werner Hoyer. "If the Muslim Brotherhood takes control the peace agreement will be at risk," Meridor told the German minister.

A further sign of Israeli concern about the negative impact of the upheaval in Egypt followed in Netanyahu's comments during the joint cabinet meeting with German and Israeli ministers. Netanyahu raised the possibility that as part of German-Israeli cooperation a rail line could be built between Eilat and the port of Ashdod. "This would be in case the Suez Canal is blocked or closed because of traffic," the prime minister said.

Nonetheless, the German chancellor did not hesitate to call on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, during the press conference with Netanyahu, to carry out political reforms. Merkel said that what has been done so far is not enough to placate the demonstrators, and Mubarak must embark on dialogue in order to meet their demands.

"Stability in Egypt is important, but so are human rights," Merkel said. "We did not abandon Mubarak and we appreciate his political role in the peace process, but our principles cannot apply in one country and not in another," she said.

Meanwhile, in an unusual move and with Israel's agreement, Egypt moved some 800 soldiers into Sinai in order to deal with the Bedouin unrest in the peninsula. The deployment of the troops in the Sinai is an infringement of the peace agreement signed between the two countries in 1979, which requires the area to be demilitarized.

The Egyptians asked to move two battalions into the area of Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai, out of concern that the upheaval there may spiral out of control. Egypt has moved troops into the area with Israel's acquiescence on a number of occasions in the past five years, mostly to secure the border area with the Gaza Strip and counter the smuggling of weapons to Hamas. There are concerns that Hamas may use the unrest in Egypt to infiltrate terrorists into Sinai for attacks on Israel through the peninsula.



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