News that deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was near death late Tuesday was greeted by Israelis with remorse.
“He will be remembered as a partner for peace,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University. “He will be remembered as a very strong leader.”
“Most Israelis see Mubarak’s image through the perspective of last year’s Egyptian uprising and tend to forget all the disagreements Israelis have had with him for many years,” he said. “When he was toppled, they saw it as a loss – as though he was a close partner.
“The last time we saw something like that was when King Hussein of Jordan passed away. He had a very positive image in the eyes of most Israelis – in very blunt contradiction to Yasir Arafat’s passing or that of Hafez Assad, the father of the current Syrian president.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he had “mixed” emotions about Mubarak, 84, whom he met many times during Mubarak’s 30-year presidency.
“Many people predicted when he came to power that he would not sustain the peace treaty with Israel [signed in 1979],” he said. “In fact, he did – even if it was a cold peace.”
Mubarak and Israel were on the same page, however, when it came to Hamas, the terrorist organization in control of the Gaza Strip.
“Very much like Israel’s leadership, President Mubarak viewed Hamas’ ruling of Gaza as a very negative development — and sometimes as a threat to Egypt,” Meital said.
As a result, Mubarak kept the border between Gaza and Egypt closed, forcing Palestinian terrorists to dig tunnels under the border fence in order to smuggle in goods and weapons. Mubarak even went so far as to bury a steel plate near the border to try to prevent the building of more tunnels.
In the first five years after the Egyptian-Israeli border was opened in 1982, Israelis flocked to Egyptian tourist sites.
“In the first five years, Egypt was among the most attractive tourist sites for Arab and Jewish Israelis,” Meital said. “The numbers were in the hundreds of thousands. But it started to decrease with the first intifada in 1987 and has decreased significantly since. And there has been none since Mubarak was deposed.”
When news spread shortly after midnight Wednesday in Egypt that Mubarak was near death, thousands of Egyptians cheered as they gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest the decision of the Egyptian military to seize many of the reins of power in the country.
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“I’m watching the crowd on Al Jazeera and the mood is celebratory,” Meital said. “But there are many, many in Egypt who are not celebrating this evening. Many actually feel very bad over the way this president was deposed and then treated. He was tried and sentenced to life in prison — and there was an appeal to ask for capital punishment.”
But for Israeli’s, Mubarak’s passing will be seen as the loss of a man “they cherished,” Meital said.
“They will see him as a champion of peace, as someone who was actually sacrificed by the Americans. He paid a heavy price when the Barack Obama administration decided to side with the uprising last year and played a role behind the scenes to have the Egyptian armed forces leave Mubarak without any choice but to step down.”