TEL AVIV // A leaked document yesterday suggested that Israel has long favoured Omar Suleiman, the new vice-president of Egypt, to take over from Hosni Mubarak, indicating possible Israeli influence in Mr Suleiman's new appointment.
According to secret memos from US embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv that were obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and published by the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Suleiman has closely co-operated with the US and Israel on the Israeli-Palestinian talks, efforts to stop arms smuggling into Hamas-ruled Gaza and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
One document from August 2008 said that a senior adviser from the Israeli defence ministry said Israelis believe Mr Suleiman, the former Egyptian intelligence chief, "is likely to serve as at least an interim president if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated".
The cable also claimed that the adviser told US officials that Israel was "most comfortable" with the prospect of Mr Suleiman becoming the next president.
The new revelations suggest the possibly strong influence that Israel and the US are having on the formation of a new government in Egypt, where protesters have demanded the removal of the 83-year-old Mr Mubarak in a two-week-old popular uprising.
Israeli officials, fearful that a change in the Egyptian regime may endanger their country's security, have become outspoken about publicly pressing for any new government in Egypt to be in lockstep with Mr Mubarak's system of rule, by playing on western fears of an Islamist takeover. Late on Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, reiterated his warning that "Islamists could take advantage of the situation to grab control of" Egypt.
Avigdor Lieberman, the ultranationalist Israeli foreign minister known for making fiery statements about Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, indicated that the turmoil in Egypt demonstrated Arab countries' increasing weakness due to the rise of Islamists.
"We see that the Arab world is continuing to weaken," he told visiting European Union delegates on Monday evening. "At the end of the day it's clear to all of the [Arab states], including the Palestinian Authority, that the biggest danger for them is not Zionism but Hamas and jihad."
The internal documents released by WikiLeaks showed Israel has long anticipated Mr Mubarak's political exit and has not shied away from stating that it would opt for Mr Suleiman to take Egypt's helm.
The cable in August 2008 from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv said that David Hacham, the Arab affairs adviser to the Israeli defence ministry, told US officials that Israelis who met the Egyptian president that month "were shocked by Mubarak's aged appearance and slurred speech". The memo also said that Mr Hacham "was full of praise" for Mr Suleiman.
According to the document, Mr Hacham said that a "hotline" had been set up between Israel's ministry of defence and Mr Suleiman's intelligence service and was now in "daily use". Mr Hacham was quoted as saying that he sometimes speaks to Mr Suleiman's deputy several times a day. The co-ordination between Israel and top Egyptian officials such as Mr Suleiman, according to the documents, included a "common strategic interest" in stopping Iran's expansion in the Middle East and a "common view" of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear programme. Other issues that indicated a close co-operation were on the long-time efforts to prompt a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group that rules the Gaza Strip, and on Egypt's actions to curtail arms smuggling into Gaza, the documents showed.
A cable from December 2007 from the US Embassy in Cairo showed Mr Suleiman's frustration with Israeli criticism about Egypt's inability to curtail the infiltration of weapons into Gaza. At one point, the cable said, Mr Suleiman and the Egyptian defence minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, suggested that Israel was "welcome" to re-invade the so-called Philadelphia corridor that separates the Gaza Strip and Egypt to stop the smuggling.
Mr Suleiman, who has had a low public profile in Egypt until last week and who is leading talks with opposition figures behind the mass demonstrations to create a new government, has denied ambitions to succeed Mr Mubarak as president. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, last weekend endorsed Mr Suleiman for leading the transition of Mr Mubarak's eventual resignation, and he is believed have been tapped to take over the government's helm.
The candidacy of Mr Suleiman does not appear to be a popular choice for many Egyptians, some of whom view the new vice-president as too closely allied with Mr Mubarak, with whom he survived an assassination attempt in 1995 by Islamist militants during an African summit in Addis Ababa.