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Israel grapples with insecurity as it celebrates independence

TEL AVIV, Israel – Celebrating Israel's independence always starts with a bang. Fireworks light up the night sky as families fill the streets.  Starting Wednesday evening and continuing throughout the day Thursday, the country has been covered in overt displays of national pride with flags flying from most homes and cars.

But, as always with Israel, that very independence brings insecurity. This week has been no exception.

The newspapers have carried an array of mixed messages and perceived threats. From increased tension along the border with Lebanon to Israel's military chief saying Iran is unlikely to build an atomic bomb.

But one issue dominates – the changing relationship with Egypt, their southern neighbor, and the vital gas pipeline running between the two countries.

Gas deal terminated
On Sunday Egypt terminated a long-term gas deal with Israel. While politicians on both sides have tried to downplay the closure of the pipeline as merely a business dispute, there is little doubt it's a sign of a relationship coming under increased strain.

The pipeline has been attacked 14 times over the last year, repeatedly interrupting gas flow. Although the deal supplied Israel with 40 percent of its natural gas, experts say the cancellation will have a limited impact.

Professor Eytan Sheshinksi, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said Israel had become used to them.

"I think it will not have serious effect at this time. Shortages were expected this summer anyway," he told NBC News.

As far as Israel Hayom, the popular right-leaning Israeli Hebrew-language daily newspaper, was concermed, it was another example of why Israel should only depend on itself.

"The painful conclusion is, once again, that we have no genuine friends in the region," the paper's analysis wrote. "This is a reminder...that we must first and foremost depend only on ourselves."

Israel expects gas to start pumping from its own huge reserves next year – which many have great expectations for.

"This is extremely important for the country," Dr. Amit Mor, CEO of the Israel’s company ECO Energy Ltd., said about Israel’s push to develop its own oil reserves. “We do not need to depend our energy production consumption on the importation of oil and gas from our neighboring Arab countries or from the international market. We can provide our own resources by ourselves.”

Political repercussions
Another major concern about the failed pipeline deal is what it means politically for Israel. The pipeline was part of a peace treaty between the two countries that was signed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1979. Mubarak of course has been swept from power and long-held resentment at the peace deal is now being voiced publicly. 

The anti-Israel rhetoric is echoed by politicians in Egypt as the country prepares for presidential elections in May. "There is no doubt the peace treaty is unfair to Egyptian side," Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman and a senior figure in Egypt's biggest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters.  Although he said all treaties would be "respected.”

On Tuesday Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel Radio Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is, "turning into a kind of Wild West" with Islamist militants using the open desert border to stage attacks against his country.

Israel may well be celebrating 64 years, but the Jewish state continues to feel its enemies close by.

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