News Analysis: With new Egypt, Israel worries about Iran

08:39, February 22, 2011      

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When former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, Israel found itself in an embarrassed situation.

On one hand, it has lost, as analysts said, one of its strongest regional "allies." On the other hand, the popular protests, that stated in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt, show that the people in the Middle East have chosen to change the regional order.

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the possible expansion of Tehran's influence in the region. Their worries, however, may be intensified as Iran is planning to send two warships through the Suez Canal.

Analysts that spoke to Xinhua on Monday said that with the fall of Mubarak, Israel will have to get used to a new reality with a stronger and more influential Iran, adding that the Iranian regime will not go the same way that Mubarak chose.

A NEW TIME

Meir Javedanfar, an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian issues, told Xinhua that, in the short term, Israel should not put too much faith on a regime change in Iran.

"However, in the medium to long term, if the current disturbances in Iran continue, they will weaken the regimes domestically. That could have an impact on its negotiation position over the nuclear issue and its regional policies," he noted.

Dr. Soli Shahver, head of the Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, said that the Iranian government should not be compared to other governments in the region.

In his opinion, the Iranian government is much more dedicated to its survival as it is Shiite-led whereas most of the other Arab countries in the region are Sunni-dominated. "Where would they go? They are fighting with their backs against the wall," Shahver told Xinhua.

Regarding the possible passing of Iranian warship through the Suez Canal, Javedanfar referred it as "a sign of the times," saying that "the region is changing and realignments are going to shift."

"We are looking at a new map the Middle East. There has been an earthquake recently and we are still trying to find out where the new fault lines are," Javedanfar said.

"From what we can see now, Israel's position is not going to be the same as before. It has lost one ally and in the future we are more likely to face an emboldened Iran," he added.

A SYMBOLIC MOVE

Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the Institute of Counter- Terrorism at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, said he believed that the possible passing of Iranian naval ships through the Suez Canal has both symbolic and strategic implications for Israel.

This is the first time in nearly 30 years for the Iranian navy that they will pass two ships through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and keep them for at least some time in a Syria harbor.

"This has on one hand a symbolic value that it shows the Iranian navy can operate not only in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, but also in the Mediterranean," Karmon said.

According to Karmon, this offers a sign to the America, NATO fleets and various European powers that have interests in the Mediterranean. It can also be seen on the backdrop to what has happened in Lebanon.

"There is also a practical level in the sense that, although the Iranian authority says that the ship is not armed, this is a military ship that can transport military hardware, especially heavy weapons," Karmon said.

Karmon said that the Israeli navy would be watching the ships during their scheduled joint exercises with the Syrian navy, and also monitoring if any weaponry is passed to Hezbollah.

Perhaps if there was not such a turmoil in the Middle East, things would have been different for Israel, and may NATO have reacted to the ships, Karmon argued, adding that because everybody is busy with what is happening in the neighborhood, there has only been rhetorical action.

"What is interesting is that the Egyptians gave permission but did not give a full permission. There is some kind of negotiations about this passage," Karmon said.

He is of the opinion that, while Mubarak has stepped down, many of the officials in the new government used to serve with Mubarak might share his views on Iran.

Source:Xinhua
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