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Politics and Economics in Israel

Chickens coming home to roost

The chickens come home to roost

The Egyptian government announced last Thursday the arrest of 49 people for plotting terrorist attacks, espionage, forgery, weapons smuggling and conducting terror training.  For several years Israeli officials have been pleading with Egypt to honor its treaty commitments and crackdown on the weapons smuggling that occurs in Sinai.  The Egyptians always state that they are doing everything they can, but as long as the weapons find their way to Gaza and are used against Israel, the Egyptians were content to turn a blind eye to these activities.

To no one’s surprise, those arrested included Palestinians, Lebanese, Sudanese (all proxies of Iran) and their Bedouin interlocutors.  Egypt and Iran have been locked in a battle of wills for leadership of the Arab world.  Egypt was satisfied to have its Palestinian faction (Palestinian Authority) and Iran was happy to have its Palestinian faction (Hamas).  In an accord worthy of  The Godfather, Don Corleone Mubarak allowed the other Dons (Meshaal, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad) to “draw water from the well” and use Sinai for transferring weapons, money and trained fighters.

As long as those resources were not turned against it, Egypt was only too happy to play both sides of the fence.  It mediates between the Palestinian factions, between Israel and Hamas and between the EU and Hamas.  Thus, it has bolstered its supposed reputation as the address for diplomatic initiatives and as a so-called moderate Arab state.  However, now the rules of the game have suddenly changed.  Egypt is on the terrorist hit list.  The chickens have come home to roost.

Why now?

The timing doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. There is no imminent transition of power in Egypt, no new leader that needs to be tested. Neither America nor Israel have made any threatening moves toward Iran, forcing them to call their proxies into action. In fact, just the opposite has occurred: American bureaucrats scurry after Iran’s representatives like star-crossed schoolgirls seeking an autograph. So why now?

On the other hand, America’s allies in the region – Egypt, Israel, Lebanon’s elected government, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – are increasingly on the defensive. Egypt has been unable to negotiate a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel or mediate a Palestinian national unity government. Israel has been battered in the court of public opinion. Lebanon is on the razor’s edge with elections coming up in 56 days, trying to avoid a Hizbullah-Syrian putsch ala the one that Hamas orchestrated in Gaza in 2006. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are watching Washington’s new policies unfold (unsuccessfully) with trepidation.

Indeed, Egyptian authorities reported that the first arrests came in November of last year.  The rest of the network was unraveled over the following months.  Apparently, Iran and its proxies were reading the tealeaves and foresaw Barack Obama’s election; Obama’s election surprised no one really.  Neither is it surprising that plans to test a new American president would be put into action so quickly.  Their brazen nature underscores not only how litle regard radical Islamists have for the new American leader, but also how little regard they have for the international system.

The leopard can’t change his spots

As Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a columnist for the paper Asharq Alawsat put it this way:

“Most of the victims of extremist Islamist groups . . . are not Europeans but in fact Muslims from Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. It is the same for the extremist ideology of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has launched battles between different Islamic factions more than he has harmed the West.  The belief that Obama’s connections to Islam would reassure the extremists and end the confrontation is naïve and demonstrates lack of knowledge of the situation of the Islamic world.”

Another Asharq Alawsat columnist, Tariq Alhomayed, stated:

“The danger of Bin Nasrallah and those like him is that they strive to overthrow governments and create chaos in regions . . . in the interest of Iran.  The excuse that is given of course is that this is all for the sake of defending Palestine, just as Bin Nasrallah said.  This is the same excuse that Saddam Hussein used when he occupied Kuwait; the same excuse that Bin Laden used after he caused havoc in our countries and throughout the world; and the same excuse used by a battalion of criminals in our region.”

Just in case you’re wondering, President Obama, Asharq Alawsat is also published in English, so there’s no need to waste anytime learning Arabic; you can continue chasing after the Ayatollah for that precious autograph!

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment