Israel following the situation in Egypt with alarm


Israel is following the situation in Egypt with alarm, fearing the nationwide protests against President Hosni Mubarak could threaten peaceful Israeli-Egyptian relations, a cornerstone of its Middle East policy.

Israel and Egypt fought four major wars in which tens of thousands lost their lives before they signed a peace treaty in 1979. Following are key points about Israeli-Egyptian relations:

* Former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel in 1977. The two sides subsequently signed a peace treaty in 1979, based on the so-called Camp David Accords. Under the deal, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, which it captured in a 1967 war, and limits were set on the forces Egypt could deploy to the area. Ties between the neighbours are still at times tense, with some analysts defining their relations as the “cold peace”.

* Sadat was assassinated in Cairo in 1981 by radicals opposed to the peace treaty with Israel. His deputy, Hosni Mubarak, was sworn in as president on October 14, 1981.

* Mubarak has worked with 8 Israeli prime ministers but has only visited Israel once, for the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli radical opposed to Arab-Israeli peace deals. Israeli leaders have regularly visited Mubarak in Egypt, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going there twice over the past five months.

* Israel has cut its defence spending from 23 percent of gross national product in the 1970s to 9 percent today, according to the New York Times, safe in the knowledge that Egypt was not a major military threat.

* Israel shares a 250-km (160 miles) largely open desert border with Egypt. It has recently decided to seal off about half the frontier to try to halt the flow of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

* By being able to rely on Egypt’s control of Gaza’s southwestern border, Israel was able to pull out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. It has since complained that Egypt should be doing more to halt weapons being smuggled to Hamas.

* Israel imports nearly 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt via an underwater pipeline. In 2005 the neighbours signed a 20-year deal to ensure the supply continues. The pipeline is operated by East Mediterranean Gas, an Egyptian-Israeli company.

* The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics said bilateral trade totalled $502 million in 2010, with Egyptian imports worth $355 million and Israeli exports $147 million. Egypt is Israel’s 38th largest export market, according to Globes business website. Reuters