Israel “surprised” that Arabs may want democracy

Almost funny:

Despite its renown for gathering precise intelligence about its Arab neighbors, Israel was caught completely off guard by the political upheaval in Egypt, officials said Sunday.

The dramatic outpouring of Egyptians demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel’s longest standing ally in the Arab world, has shaken this country’s foreign policy establishment.

Top officials held lengthy talks Sunday about the implications for Israel’s security, but they were unable to produce any recommendations on what steps to take.

“There is no doubt that Israel was caught with its pants down,” said a minister in Israel’s defense cabinet. “We were completely surprised by what is happening in Egypt right now. Nobody predicted this.”

This official, like others, spoke anonymously on Egypt, because the government is maintaining an official silence, fearing that any public statement could harm Israeli interests as events unfold.

Mubarak has long been a trusted partner for Israel, not only upholding the peace agreement that was signed in 1979, after three major wars in 30 years. He cooperated with Israel to maintain a tight cordon around Gaza, where Hamas militants now rule, and generally has been supportive for Israel’s stance on peace talks with Palestinians.

Defense officials told McClatchy that they would do everything they could to help strengthen Mubarak, whose regime is under severe threat after six days of street protests demanded for his ouster. But it wasn’t clear how Israel could assist Mubarak and not cause him further damage.

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