JERUSALEM Israel has long regarded Omar Suleiman, just appointed Egypt's vice president, as its preferred successor to President Hosni Mubarak, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.
"We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman," said the cable written by the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in 2008, using its own spelling for his name.
Suleiman, Egypt's intelligence chief since 1993, has been a frequent visitor to Israel and a mediator in its conflict with the Palestinians.
The United States has thrown its support behind a transition effort launched by Suleiman, appointed by Mubarak as vice president after massive protests calling for an end to the 82-year-old Egyptian leader's 30 years of rule.
The cable, dated August 29, 2008, summarized talks Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had held with Egyptian leaders in the port city of Alexandria.
It quoted one of Barak's advisers, David Hacham, as saying the Israeli delegation was "shocked by Mubarak's aged appearance and slurred speech."
"Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated," the cable said.
"Hacham was full of praise for Soliman ... and noted that a 'hot line' set up between the MOD (Israeli Ministry of Defense) and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use," it said, adding that Barak had publicly hailed Egypt's efforts to halt arms smuggling to militants in neighboring Gaza.
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced hope that any new government that emerges in Cairo will maintain the peace, which secured Israel a quiet border with the most populous Arab state and demilitarization of the neighboring Egyptian Sinai.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Andrew Roche)