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Egypt: Gaza's Second Front By: FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Immediately after Operation Cast Lead began, an internationally published columnist wrote a series of articles entitled, "Hamas, Damascus, Iran - The New Axis of Evil," which stated the sovereign government of the Gaza Strip has "elements similar to Nazism." The author described Hamas as "lunatics who have butchered their own people," stating its leadership is "trying to bring destruction upon its people," whom it is "holding hostage."

Who penned such words? Was it William Kristol? Walid Phares? Alan Dershowitz?

No, it was Muhammad Ali Ibrahim, an Egyptian MP and editorialist for the state-controlled newspaper Al-Gumhouriyya, and his anthology reveals one of the most overlooked elements of the Israeli-Hamas conflict to date: the enlightened self-interest of many Arab nations, especially Egypt, is leading them to quietly align their foreign policy toward pursuing Israeli objectives. Chief among these is an abiding indifference toward, or antipathy for, the Hamas-led government of Gaza, discussions of a ceasefire conducted at a snail's pace, and the possible collaboration of two Arab governments in cutting off weapons smuggling to Gaza terrorists. These nations' reaction provides a glimmer of hope that in the modern Arab Street, there are some forces so radical mainstream Arab leadership will have nothing to do with them.

Egypt brokered the last Israeli-Hamas ceasefire in June, which Hamas systematically violated and refused to renew when it expired last December 19. In turn, Egypt and other moderates have exposed and attempted to isolate Hamas from the very beginning of hostilities. Ibrahim's newspaper columns followed an immediate dispatch written by Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, which blamed Gaza's terrorist leadership - and not the familiar Zionist enemy - for violence. "Hamas is responsible for the turn that events have taken," the article read, describing the Strip's leaders as "reckless" and "delusional." Egytian officials also humiliated Gaza's leadership by announcing on December 28 that Hamas refused to allow wounded Palestinians to leave Gaza. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said, "The wounded are barred from crossing" into Egypt. He added, "We are waiting for the wounded to cross." However, it is the deeds of the largest Arab nation, not merely its words, that offend the Islamist entity.

Israel began its campaign of self-defense on Saturday, December 27, and Hamas called for an immediate emergency session of the Arab League to impose a ceasefire. The Arab League, largely controlled by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, sprang into action, calling a meeting -- for the following Wednesday, tacitly allowing the IDF to do its damage until December 31. Egyptian officials did not meet with Hamas officials to discuss the terms until last Tuesday, January 6, when Palestinian Hamas official Emad al-Alami and Syrian Hamas official Mohammed Nasr arrived in Cairo. Again this Tuesday, Qatar demanded a same-day emergency summit to discuss Gaza; Saudi Arabia, speaking on behalf of nearly all Arab League countries, chose to wait until the regularly scheduled meeting in Kuwait next Monday, January 19. The European Union, led by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, has been more responsive. French, Russian, and British officials tried to halt Operation Cast Lead from its outset and have pursued a regionally brokered ceasefire with indefatigable zeal ever since. 

Yet the government of Egypt has not proved malleable to the terrorists' demands. At their initial meeting, al-Alami and Nasr rebuffed the Egyptian call for a ceasefire, insisting Israel "end the aggression, withdraw from Gaza, open the crossing points, especially Rafah, with a total lifting of the blockade." Egypt has not budged from a proposal that deeply offends Hamas: the plan sets no timetable for IDF withdrawal from Gaza and requires Gaza to open talks with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah, Hamas' avowed enemy, with the aim of eventual reunification it hopes will bury Hamas in the process. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman told Hamas that Egypt is setting a minimum one-year term for the ceasefire, rather than a temporary tahdia, or calm, with Israel. In this, Egypt has the full support of the Saudis and Jordanian King Abdullah II. As of Tuesday, Hamas publicly rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, sticking to its own terms. Egyptian sources have told the press Hamas leaders in Gaza support the ceasefire but its foreign political leadership has rejected the measure under pressure from Syria and/or Iran.

As a result, both Cairo and Tel Aviv refuse to reopen the Rafah border crossings until the conditions of a 2005 agreement are met. Last Thursday, MSNBC reported Egypt forbade doctors from entering Gaza through the Rafah border crossing "citing security concerns."

Incredibly, Egypt, with assistance from Turkey, may move to cut off the flow of weapons into Gaza via secret tunnels quarried into Egypt. Israeli officials have acknowledged such as their prime military objective. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Ehud Olmert, called the destruction of the tunnel system "the make-or-break issue" upon which peace depends. Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed "definitive action" must be taken on the tunnels, "otherwise, I think we are in for a protracted campaign." To date, the IDF has destroyed approximately 150 tunnels -- but it believes this accounts for only half of their total number.

Hosni Mubarak's government may have a bolder plan: building a moat along the Philadelphi Corridor,  which connects Sinai to Gaza. Meanwhile, Turkish soldiers have volunteered to man the Egypt-Gaza border to keep weapons from crossing. It is unclear whether Mubarak would accept the second half of the plan, as Egypt wants no foreign troops on its soil. However, if such a program were implemented consistently, Turkish and Egyptian pressure coupled with Israeli control of the sea and air would assure that Hamas cannot replenish its arms stockpiles, effectively neutering it a a military force.

It is just this that has set the majority of the Arab Street burning with rage. Egypt has faced backlash from around the Arab world, and beyond, for its seeming indifference to Gaza and its refusal to reopen the Rafah border crossing. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the head of a non-Arab state, criticized Egypt for neglecting its Arab brothers in the land it once occupied. Lebanese Sunni cleric Maher Hamoud assigned Abu Gheit to the "Party of Satan." He further elevated the discourse by saying:

It is a disgrace that his name is Ahmad. He is Ahmaq Abu Ghaet ["Idiot Abu Shit"] - you all know what "shit" means. He is Idiot Abu Shit, not Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit. It is Idiot Abu Shit who is talking a load of shit, when he says the missiles are the reason for these crimes and for what is happening, without shedding a tear.

Angry crowds in Beirut have paraded with pictures of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez bearing the words, "This is what real men are like." On Sunday, angry Syrian crowds chanted,"Mubarak, you are a coward, you are the agent of colonization. Down, down with the Arab rulers, the collaborators."

One can see the frustration. Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey have offered humanitarian aid to Gaza -- but none have cut diplomatic ties with Israel, as Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez did. This week, 21 Kuwaiti MPs appealed to the government to declare Palestinian Authority President Abbas' impending visit "unwanted," due to his alleged weakness toward Israel. (He, too, has placed the blame for the war squarely on Hamas.)  Faced with such indifference, Nicholas Sarkozy has taken to pressuring Syria, recognizing Damascus and Tehran hold sway over Gaza and alone are willing to accommodate its wishes.

Muslim anger has boiled over to the point that some are taking matters into their own hands. Israelis claim civilians inside Jordan and Syria have attacked Israeli soldiers patrolling those borders in the last week. This follows the firing of at least four Katyusha rockets from Lebanon into Israel late last year. So angry are Jordanians that the Hashemite Kingdom has had to make amends with its chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and MB political front the Islamic Action Front (IAF), in order to allow its mostly Palestinian population to vent its anger over Gaza through controlled public demonstrations. Egypt, thankfully, took a different approach. As fighting broke out, Mubarak's men arrested at least 16 Muslim Brotherhood leaders following massive protests in Alexandria on January 9th.

Such anger shows the genesis of the cautious approach taken by Egypt, et. al. Their responsible course has been set, not out of benevolence for the Jewish state and it signals no change of heart about the dagger in the heart of Islam. Egypt has acted in this fashion for two self-serving reasons: its own prestige and its regime's safety, the latter of which is shared by many of its fellow travelers.

Egypt is the largest Arab nation in the world and looked to as the chief negotiator for the region. With an intractable Hamas being operated by terror-sponsors in Damascus and Tehran, the nations of Syria and Iran (themselves joined in a mutual entente) threaten Egyptian hegemony.

More to the point, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia share a common concern: Hamas' Islamofascist comrades have long desired to topple moderate, non-theocratic regimes. The Saudi royal family's promotion of Wahhabi Islam is essentially a protection racket. The Land of the Nile is faced with its own extremist, Islamist movement -- exacerbated partly by U.S. policy. The Bush Doctrine pressured Cairo to hold free and fair elections, as it did the Palestinian Authority, and in both cases radical Islamists gained ascendancy. In Egypt, members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood gained numerous seats in parliament as "independents." The last thing Cairo wants is a miniature Taliban on the Sinai border inspiring its own theocrats to join hands with foreign fighters.

All things being equal, there is little reason to believe the average government official in Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia would not secretly love to see Israel pushed into the sea. But politics makes strange bedfellows -- and right now, Egypt understands its survival as a secular state is tied to that of Israel.

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