Cairo furious over Moscow-Jerusalem-S. Sudan ties
A secret meeting in Tel Aviv last Thursday, Dec. 16 between the high-ranking Russian emissary Mikhail Margelov and representatives of the South Sudanese semi-autonomous government so infuriated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he ordered his intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman to hit back by accusing Israel of recruiting Egyptian agents to spy on Lebanon and Syria.
According to debkafile's intelligence sources, Cairo has only just begun settling the score with Jerusalem for bringing Russia into its quiet support for oil-rich South Sudan, whose President Silva Kiir Mayardit plans to lead his Christian-dominated province to independence of the Muslim North in a referendum on Jan. 9.
The Egyptians suspect that the recent delivery of Russian arms to South Sudan, mainly combat helicopters, is part of a joint Russian-Israeli armament program.
Sudan is not expected to take its breakup lying down, especially when a separate referendum on the same day may lead a second province Abyei to secede, a double blow to Khartoum's oil industry: 85 percent of its oil is pumped in the South and most of its exports are piped through Abyei to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Margelov, who is Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, as well as the Chairman of the European Democrat group of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, had previously opposed South Sudan's secession, voicing fears of "a new Somalia" emerging. However, after appreciating its inevitability after decades of bloody war, the Kremlin changed its tune.
Margelov's get-together with South Sudanese officials last Thursday – first revealed by the Israel-Russian IZRus website and believed to have been set up by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – was noted in the several world capitals which are keeping an eagle eye on the January 9 plebiscites.
Four days later, Cairo announced Egyptian Tareq Abd Al Rezak Hassan had been arrested and charged with working for the Israeli Mossad. Not a day has gone by since without lurid revelations about his clandestine activities.
The Sudan question was pressing enough to bring Hosni Mubarak and the Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddai on a visit to Khartoum On Dec. 21 for talks with President Omar Bashir. They arrived together to try and persuade him to postpone the referenda fearing they would lead to more bloodshed. But their agendas were essentially quite different:
Qaddafi abhors the very notion of a new oil power rising next door to Libya – and especially under Christian rule. Mubarak fears the momentous changes overtaking Sudan will upset the colonial treaties which grant Egypt 85 percent of Nile waters. Most of it comes from the river's main tributary, the Blue Nile, which flows in from Ethiopia; less from the White Nile which rises in Uganda. The two tributaries merge near Khartoum and flow north as a single river which has been Egypt's lifeline for millennia.
Egypt feels threatened not only by the Sudan upheavals to come, but by a new initiative launched by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi which challenges Egypt's monopoly over Nile Waters and demands equitable shares for the river's seven upstream nations, most of them extremely poor.
The Mubarak government regards its control of the Nile an existential issue and will if need be fight for it. Zenawi remarked recently: "I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia. Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story."
Both Cairo and Addis Ababa are therefore sharpening their teeth over the Nile.
And that is the point at which Israel has entered the picture, debkafile's intelligence and military sources report.
President Kiir maintains a covert office in Tel Aviv, the hub through which his diplomatic, military and intelligence relations with Israel are funneled. Egypt and western military sources believe Israel has been steadily arming South Sudan through a third party, thereby backing its drive for independence.
Ethiopia, too, is a friend of Israel and maintains strong military and intelligence ties with the Jewish state. This month, Cairo was dismayed to discover that Israel had developed connections and influence in East African countries south of Egypt powerful enough to override the Mubarak government's dominant role on the Palestinian issue.
For Mubarak, the covert meeting between Russian and South Sudanese officials in Tel Aviv, of all places, was the last straw. He saw it as the culmination of an Israeli gambit to enlist Russian support for the new ventures Jerusalem had launched as a disconnect from Washington's falling prestige in the Middle East and a means of circumventing the Iranian-fueled radicalization of its neighbors.
Cairo thereupon put its foot down on Israel's Sudan venture, making the Mossad the object of its ire.
Tareq Abd Al Rezak Hassan is now charged with conducting contacts with Israel harmful to state security and hostile activities against Syria. Indictments have also been filed against "Eddy and Moshe Joseph Dimor," described as Hassan's handlers,
Cairo has taken care not to go all the way and charge Israel with spying against Egypt – only other Arab states. But it has made the affair public as a warning to Israel to back off from its diplomatic forays in East Africa or face more embarrassments.