The Israel Defense Forces announced last week the closure to Israeli civilian traffic of a 182-kilometer long strip, 300 meters deep, along the Israeli-Egyptian border, carving out Israel’s first security zone in its sovereign territory. The step was taken as a direct result, debkafile reports, of the Obama administration’s failed effort to breathe life into the US-Egyptian-Israeli partnership for combating terror, when US Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers visited Cairo earlier this month.
The three-way collaboration was concluded last November for ending the Gaza conflict and persuading Israel to refrain from a ground incursion into the Strip. Reconnecting the “hot line,” between the presidential palace in Cairo and Israel’s defense center in Tel Aviv was to have been part of the deal. Maintained by the Mubarak regime and military rule which followed, the line was cut off when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power last July.
However, according to our sources, Vickers’ mission to reactivate the Libyan and Sinai fronts against Islamist terror ran into a spirit of non-collaboration in Cairo. He found Egyptian leaders immersed in a process of rapprochement with Tehran brokered by Qatar, and was told that fighting the terrorist networks rampant in Sinai was not exactly convenient at that moment.
Instead, they were busy entertaining distinguished Iranian guests. debkafile’s intelligence sources report the first was Revolutionary Guards Al Qods Brigades commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who paid a secret visit to Cairo last month, followed last Wednesday, Jan. 11, by Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi.
It seems that President Mohamed Morsi has become a fan of Gen. Soleimani. He was deeply impressed by the feat he masterminded of keeping Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in power against all odds. The Iranian general was invited to Cairo to give Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood expert advice on keeping their regime safe from internal and external conspiracies.
Washington was disturbed most of all to discover that Qatar was the live wire which egged Cairo on to open up to friendship with Tehran. The Qataris oiled the works by promising cash-strapped Egypt a long-term loan of $2 billion on top of the first like amount extended last year. Both Washington and Jerusalem are baffled by Qatar’s inconsistency – on the one hand, robustly supporting the Syrian rebellion for the overthrow of Bashar Assad, Tehran’s closest ally, while furthering Iran’s drive to win over Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and expand its influence in the Arab world, on the other. How does this square with the new pro-US Sunni Muslim axis including Egypt, Qatar and Turkey, which American diplomats negotiated along with the Gaza ceasefire deal in November? Could Qatar be playing a double game by building a second bloc along with Egypt and Iran?
Qatar’s motivations are vitally important to Israel because its rulers are already spreading tentacles smoothed by heavy cash infusions deep into the Palestinian power centers of Gaza and the West Bank.
By working for détente with Iran, Egypt and Qatar could end up opening the Palestinian back door for Tehran to walk through in both territories. This prospect was behind Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent warnings that Hamas could land with both feet in the West Bank in a matter of days.
On Aug. 24, 2011, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, announced the IDF was no longer treating the Egyptian frontier as a border of peace in view of new perils. His words marked the end of the decades of calm Israel and Egypt enjoyed after signing their 1979 peace treaty.
On Dec. 26 2012, the IDF inaugurated the new Eilat Division, set up for defending southern Israel against the terrorist forces making free of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
On Jan. 2, the Prime Minister marked the completion of a new security fence built along the former peace border at a cost of NIS1.8 billion. However, Israeli strategists have concluded that a defensive border fence would not provide enough security against the teeming Islamist terrorists and al Qaeda networks occupying Sinai. Hence, the new security strip which closes Route 10, the main highway linking northern and southern Israel, to civilian traffic.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s primary strategy for combating the menaces besetting Israel is defensive. However, fences may alleviate local threats for a time but cannot affect the big strategic changes overtaking Cairo, Damascus and out-of-control Sinai on Israel’s doorstep.