Israel's Netanyahu fears Egypt could go way of Iran

JERUSALEM Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:11pm EST

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 30, 2011.REUTERS/Tomer Appelbaum/Pool

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tomer Appelbaum/Pool

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he feared Egypt could end up with a radical Islamic regime like in Iran.

Netanyahu's comments were his sharpest since protests began last week demanding the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel's most significant and oldest ally in the Arab world.

"Our real fear is of a situation that could develop ... and which has already developed in several countries including Iran itself -- repressive regimes of radical Islam," he told a news conference alongside visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Netanyahu said he hoped Israel's three-decade-old peace treaty with Egypt would survive any changes that were taking place in Cairo.

"We are all following with vigilance, with worry and hope that indeed the peace and stability will be preserved," he said, alluding to the treaty Israel signed with Egypt in 1979, its first of two with an Arab nation.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, said on Monday it was seeking to form a broad political committee with retired U.N. diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei to talk to the army.

The Brotherhood, with wide support among poor Egyptians, has until now kept in the background of an uprising spearheaded by the young urban poor and students. These comments may have raised nervousness among the Israeli leadership.

Netanyahu said that although the protests may not be motivated by religious extremism, "in a situation of chaos, an organized Islamist body can seize control of a country. It happened in Iran. It happened in other instances."

Merkel defended Western reaction to the protests in Cairo against criticism in Israel that the United States and Europe were dumping a loyal ally.

"I don't think that we've left Egypt in the lurch," she said, adding that she had spoken with Mubarak by telephone on Sunday. "We talked ... about where there are deficits, for example in connection with human rights and press freedoms and electoral law ... and employment for young people," Merkel said.

"You can't divide your principles and say my principles are valid for some countries, where you can speak your mind and vote freely, but in other countries these principles don't hold at all."

Netanyahu had earlier urged his cabinet to refrain from commenting on the unrest in Egypt, as Israel watched on the sidelines to see whether Mubarak would survive or a similar-minded democratic government took his place.

He said on Sunday that Israel had to exercise "responsibility and restraint," suggesting he wanted to avoid any appearance of involvement in the Egyptian dispute.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Douglas Hamilton; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by David Stamp)

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