The regime of President Hosni Mubarak has been concerned that Hizbullah’s war against Israel could spark efforts by the Islamic opposition to establish a military force.

Western diplomatic sources said the Mubarak regime has been alarmed by Muslim Brotherhood calls to fight Israel and the United States. They said the Brotherhood, the leading Islamic opposition group, could be preparing the groundwork for the recruitment of Islamists to join the Palestinian insurgency in the Gaza Strip.

“So far, most of the traffic has been by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Egypt,” a diplomatic source said. “The [Egyptian] security services have been concerned that the Brotherhood could reverse the flow.”

In August, Brotherhood spiritual guide Mohammed Akef said he was preparing his movement to fight Israel. Akef, criticizing the response of Arab leaders, said he would send 10,000 volunteers to Lebanon to join the Hizbullah war.

“If they [Arab leaders] weren’t Muslims, we would have killed them, because they are a bigger threat to the nation than Israel itself,” Akef said.

Diplomats and analysts said Akef’s call would probably not lead to immediate Brotherhood operations against Israel. But they said he represented growing Islamist unrest against the Mubarak regime as well as Israel and the United States.

Over the last week, Egyptian authorities have retaliated. At least 40 Brotherhood leaders, most of them members of the Shura Council, were arrested.

The highest level member arrested was Mahmoud Izzat, the No. 2 figure of the Brotherhood. Akef was not detained.

“When [Akef] says that he can control 10,000 armed men, it is tantamount to saying that there is a state within the state,” Imad Gad, an analyst with Egypt’s state-owned Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said.