JERUSALEM – Israel's prime minister said Monday his country's primary concern in Egypt is that the current crisis could create a void in which Islamic militants step in and endanger decades of peaceful relations between the two countries.
Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting German chancellor Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netanyahu gave his most detailed assessment yet of the Egyptian unrest that threatens to topple President Hosni Mubarak, Israel's strongest ally in the Arab world.
"In a state of chaos, an organized Islamic group can take over a country. It has happened. It happened in Iran," Netanyahu said. "A takeover of oppressive regimes of extreme Islam violates human rights, grinds them to dust ... and in parallel also pose a terrible danger to peace and stability."
It was Netanyahu's most direct comment about the crisis in Egypt, which has triggered concerns about stability there and elsewhere in the region. Before, Netanyahu said only that he is "anxiously following" the situation, while stressing Israel's commitment to peace with Cairo.
Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace accord with Israel in 1979 and has strictly honored it. Mubarak has close ties to Israeli leaders and has acted as a bridge between Israel and the Palestinians to the broader Arab world.
Merkel also expressed concern about the deteriorating situation in Egypt. "Dialogue is necessary, freedom of thought is necessary, peaceful treatment of demonstrators is necessary," she said.
Merkel and nine of her Cabinet ministers were in Israel for a special joint session, highlighting the two nations' strong bond six decades after the Holocaust, when Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jews.
Monday's session was the third such annual meeting since the countries signed a special arrangement.
Netanyahu said that at this time it is important for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume. He noted that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' office is just a few miles from his, implying that there is no need for mediators.
The talks broke down just three weeks after President Barack Obama restarted them in September over a dispute concerning construction in Israeli settlements. Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month freeze on new construction in the West Bank, while the Palestinians demanded a halt to all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem before talks can resume.
Merkel called on Israel to halt its West Bank settlement construction and pointed to the need to resume the peace negotiations. "The halt is not a sustainable solution," she said at the news conference.
During Merkel's two-day visit, Germany and Israel are set to sign agreements on joint projects including industrial research and development, as well as cooperation in providing aid to developing countries.
Israel and Germany have become close allies following their reconciliation after the Holocaust of World War II. Germany agreed to pay millions of dollars in reparations to Holocaust survivors and aid the newborn Jewish state.
Israeli and German governments plan to hold joint Cabinet sessions once a year in the future. Germany has such arrangements with five other nations.
Germany is Israel's third largest business partner in terms of imports and its eighth largest partner in terms of exports. During 2010, imports to Israel from Germany totaled $ 3.6 billion, while Israeli exports to that country amounted to $1.7 billion.