Khalil Hamra / AP, file
Opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi burn an Israeli flag as they protest outside the ministry of defense in Cairo, on Friday, June 28.
TEL AVIV -- Israel was warily watching events unfold in Egypt Thursday, trying to gauge what the sudden overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi would mean for relations with its neighbor.
Israel has a huge stake in what is going on in Egypt, which has been at peace with Israel since the two countries signed a treaty in 1979.
Israel has a long border with Egypt, which also borders the Gaza Strip run by the Hamas movement.
In Israel's view, stability is key in maintaining the peace between both countries and so there are potential dangers from the current political turmoil.
A constitutional court judge was sworn in Thursday as temporary president of Egypt, a day after the military ousted president Mohammed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected head of state. Adly Mansour will serve until a new election is held. NBC's Richard Engel reports and Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya comments on the dramatic turn of events.
Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said his country’s main aim was to “keep the peace with Egypt … whoever rules the country.”
“Israel's strategic interest is to have stability and a responsible government in Egypt,” he said.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement took a pragmatic view of the peace treaty, but Mizrahi has his doubts about the future.
“In my point of view, Israel should not interfere in the internal affairs of Egypt, but we should keep contact with as many groups in Egyptian society [as possible]. Our contact with the army is very, very good since we have the same interest,” he said, referring to security in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Sinai, which Israel handed back to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace treaty, has been a launching pad for al Qaeda attacks against both Israel and Egyptian forces in recent years.
“The more instability in Cairo means that radical groups in Sinai will have a much more free hand to provoke attacks against Israel,” Mizrahi said.
He doubted Egypt’s political future would be smooth, given the Muslim Brotherhood had waited for nearly 80 years to win power.
“I don't think they will give this up very easily and quickly,” Mizrahi said. “They are well organized and have lots of weapons. Either way, the outcome in Egypt will have tremendous outcomes on the Middle East. What we can say for sure is that the Arab Spring is not over yet.”
The president is asking Egypt's military to quickly return full authority to their democratically elected civilian government. The White House is now on the spot because of the perception among Egypt's protesters that the U.S. overlooked president Mohammed Morsi's crackdown on democracy. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
The former head of Israel’s military, Gabi Ashkenazi, agreed, saying the drama was still “far from over,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
Ashkenazi said there could be a possible security risk because the reduced presence of the Egyptian army in Sinai could enable Islamist militants to launch attacks on Israel.
“This is a scenario that the IDF and the defense system are thinking about, and I'm sure are prepared for," Ashkenazi said.
The former chief of staff said that he saw no reason for Israeli to get involved in Egypt’s affairs for the moment.
"Even in the year the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, they did not renege on the peace treaty [with Israel], and as far as stopping smuggling [from Sinai into the Gaza Strip] and handling Hamas, they were reasonable," he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that “like everybody, we are watching very carefully what's happening in Egypt.”
“Remember that for 30 years now, we have had an anchor of peace and stability in the Middle East, and that was the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. We hope that peace will be kept,” he said.
A Netanyahu confidant, Tzachi Hanegbi, expressed hope the appointment of judge Adly Mansour as interim president would lead to the restoration of largely frozen contacts with the Cairo government.
"There had been legitimate doubts (that the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt would hold) because in the past year Morsi, in a very harsh manner, broke off all diplomatic contacts with Israel," Hanegbi told Army Radio.
"[Wednesday's] events strengthen the feeling that perhaps we have passed the bad period and perhaps now there will be a chance to have diplomatic ties with whoever will govern Egypt in the near future," Hanegbi added.
Asked on Israel Radio whether Israel's leaders were pleased with the Egyptian military's move against Morsi, Giora Eiland, a retired general and former Israeli national security adviser, said: "I think so. Of course, they cannot say so."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds sway in the occupied West Bank, offered praise for the Egyptian army, saying it had preserved security, and congratulations to Mansour.
Reuters and NBC News' Ian Johnston contributed to this report.
- Mubarak-era judge takes over as Egypt's interim president
- 'We will create a better country': Egyptians hope change brings brighter future
- Egypt power shift Q&A: Was it a coup? What's next?