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Israel fears nightmare scenario after Mubarak

With Mubarak's ouster, Israeli officials see country encircled by hostile states

The stability of moderate Jordan has also become a source of grave concern for Israel.

''Israel had several very important strategic foundations. One is the peace agreement with Egypt and the second are the relations with Jordan, the strategic partnership. There is now a concern that both of these will be overturned,'' said Shlomo Brom, senior analyst at the National Institute for Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Muslim Brotherhood ascendancy is something that would necessitate Israel viewing its southern front as an active military arena. If the Muslim Brotherhood emerges in power, then ''[t]he whole balance of the Middle East will change and Israel will have to invest a lot in building facilities to deal with Egypt,'' said Yaacov Amidror, a retired major-general who was research chief for the Israeli army.

Jordan, traditionally a reliable ally against the common foe of Palestinian nationalism, is looking shaky these days. After several demonstrations inspired by the Egyptian protests, King Abdallah has appointed a new cabinet headed by the new Prime Minister Maarouf al-Bahit and charged it with rapidly undertaking ''reforms, modernization and development.''

''At the moment it looks as if the king is in control of the situation. But we've seen what's been happening in recent weeks and we know the situation can change very quickly,'' said Brom.

The turmoil started last month when protests against dictatorship, corruption, unemployment and income inequalities erupted in Tunisia that forced the ouster of long-time strong man Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Egyptians, emboldened by that, began mass street protests 18 days ago with the aim of forcing the departure of Mubarak.

In the view of Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the ouster of Mubarak will complete the ''encirclement'' of Israel by hostile states in the region, taking it back decades to a posture of isolation.

It will push forward a process that has already seen Turkey change from an ally to an acrimonious rival, especially after last year's storming of a Turkish ship bound for Gaza and the killing of nine activists.''Obviously it's a completion of the encirclement of Israel and we are surrounded by countries now who will be more critical, some of them hostile,'' said Liel.

''My guess is that Egypt will start behaving like Turkey is behaving," he said. "They will not ruin the peace agreement with Israel but will be much more critical of Israel for not progressing on the peace track, especially the Palestinian track. They might pull the ambassador without breaking diplomatic relations. We have to get ready for moves from Cairo that will be a more true reflection of what the Egyptian public feels towards Israel.''

Israel, Liel says, is in its weakest regional position in decades. ''Even before the peace with Egypt we always had an anchor in Iran or Turkey. Now we are losing everybody. We don't have Iran, we don't have Turkey and if we don't have Egypt, those are all the three main players. It was always very important to have at least one of them on our side. Now with encirclement we are being pushed back two to three decades to the feeling of core isolation.''