In the aftershock of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israelis are becoming increasingly apprehensive that their final pullback in Sinai next April may also mark the effective end of the peace process.
The government, however, has been steadfast thus far in repeating its intention to carry out the withdrawal as scheduled.
Israelis are acutely aware that once the final stage of the Sinai pullout is completed, Jerusalem will have discarded all cards that are vital to Egypt. Some fear that Cairo will then produce a diplomatic flush.
''The peace treaty with Israel was a brilliant part of a master plan aimed at stripping Israel completely of all its strategic gains in the six-day war,'' says Moshe Sharon of Hebrew University, former adviser on Arab affairs to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, ''and so making it an easier target, both militarily and politically.''
Former Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said recently that Mr. Begin should demand a summit conference with President Reagan and Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, where the latter two would be asked to publicly affirm their commitment to the peace process agreed to at Camp David by their predecessors. If such a conference is not held, said Mr. Rabin, Israel should reconsider its planned pullout.
The Israelis had placed a large measure of faith in Sadat's charisma; he was seen as possessed of a mystical calling to peace. Now they are concerned that Mubarak is a pragmatic politician who will follow the line of least resistance back into the Arab camp once he has regained Sinai. This would leave Israel politically isolated and with the Egyptian Army camped on its doorstep.
Mubarak was quick to reassure Israel after assuming the presidency that he will carry out Sadat's commitments to full peace. Although his remarks were welcomed in Israel, they were not enough to dislodge doubts.
''We must understand that even if Mubarak intended to do the opposite of what he says, he would be saying exactly the same thing he is saying today,'' said former Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir, who is considered one of Israel's shrewdest political figures.
In this atmosphere, Israel is scrutinizing every Egyptian statement and action for any hint that Cairo may deviate from the Camp David peace process after next April. Egypt's leaders are well aware of this and have been extremely careful in their remarks. Cairo's positions in the just-resumed talks on Palestinian autonomy and on normalization in Israeli-Egyptian relations are regarded in Jerusalem as touchstones of Cairo's intentions.
A three-day visit to Jerusalem last week by Egypt's foreign minister, Gen. Kamal Hassan Ali, has been hailed by Israeli editorialists as a marked success in allaying some of Israel's anxieties. General Ali said that Egypt will make it easy for Israeli tourists to visit Sinai after the pullback.
One place in Jerusalem where doubts about Egypt's intentions have not been expressed - at least publicly - is the government.
Despite the hawkish nature of Menachem Begin, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, these leaders have carefully avoided any hint of second thoughts about the Sinai pullback. They have, on the contrary, reaffirmed their conviction that the peace process will continue under Mubarak even after next April.