Egypt Opts for US-Israel-Jordan Bloc Against Arafat Amid Israeli Preparations for Major Offensive
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has had a sudden change of heart towards the Sharon government, producing the first flurry of diplomatic exchanges between Cairo and Jerusalem since Ariel Sharon took office 11 months ago. Wednesday, January 30, defense minister Binyamin ben Eliezer is meeting the Egyptian president at Sharm el-Sheikh. The same day, Ms. Tsipi Livneh, information minister in the prime minister’s office, flies to Cairo to call on the Egyptian president’s senior political adviser, Osama al Baz.
The two encounters come on the heels of a note another of Sharon’s advisers, Danny Ayalon, handed to al Baz Sunday, January 27. On the spot, the two officials began discussing the opening of a direct channel of communication between the two bureaus.
The change is the more striking, when only ten days ago, Mubarak told a group of Egyptian and visiting reporters that the only thing Ariel Sharon understood was violence and he found it impossible to communicate with him. So what is behind this sudden change?
debkafile‘s Cairo sources explain it quite simply: The Egyptian president, in consultation with al Baz and his senior advisers, has come to a strategic decision to turn his back on the secret Saudi-Iranian-Iraqi bloc (first exposed by debkafile – See Saudi Intervention on Arafat’s behalf, 27 Januaryon this page) and rally behind the Bush administration and its war on terror.
In truth, Mubarak never really wanted to join the Islamic radical bloc. He only toyed with the idea of sitting on the fence and acting as connecting link between the bloc’s capitals and Washington. He also hoped for a role in finding middle ground between Washington and the Palestinians, and the Bush administration and the European Union on Middle East issues. The Bush administration politely but firmly closed the door on this plan. Instead, it handed over a batch of intelligence documents itemizing Arafat’s subversive actions against the Mubarak regime in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. (as revealed in earlier debkafile report on this page: Washington Decides on Direct Action against Arafat, January 26).
Those documents also exposed the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s political and financial support for Arafat’s trouble-making. Mubarak was informed in blunt terms that for the Bush team, Arafat’s days as Palestinian leader were numbered. Egypt had the choice of going along with this decision or facing holdups in deliveries of the latest models of US weapons to Egypt. The Egyptian president was also given to understand that lining up with Washington’s anti-terror strategy entailed siding with Sharon against the Palestinians, since the Israeli prime minister is regarded Washington as one of its most effective operational arms in the Middle East, and relied not to take off on initiatives of his own, without first checking back with the Bush administration.
Mubarak’s policy switch is the second major Middle East upheaval to be set off by George W. Bush’s war on terror. It comes in response to upheaval number one, the coming together of Riyadh, Tehran, Baghdad and Gaza. It is also a personal triumph for President Bush, pulled off hours before his annual state of the union address to the two houses of Congress.
Bush can now demonstrate that the United States is far from being isolated in a key region of the world by the radical Saudi-Iranian-Iraqi alignment, which has Damascus and the Hizballah lurking in the background. Rallied behind the US war on terror is a strong Arab-Islamic bloc, led by Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Turkey and underpinned by Israel’s military might and its secret military pacts with India, Turkey and Jordan.
Cairo’s choice also knocks most of the stuffing out of the European Union’s Middle East posture. The Europeans hope to exploit Washington’s backing for Israel to take over as senior power on the Iranian-Iraqi-Saudi stage, helping itself thereby to substantial economic pickings. They are playing the Arafat card, continuing to financially underwrite him and his regime despite Washington’s condemnations. Brussels holds to the view that the Afghan War ended a chapter and no further American military steps should be pursued against nations promoting or harboring terrorists.
True to its approach, the EU foreign ministers meeting in the Belgian capital Monday, January 28, demanded that Israel exit Palestinian-ruled territory forthwith, dismantle its blockades of Palestinian towns, let Arafat go free from Ramallah and discontinue its attacks on Europe-aided Palestinian projects.
Monday, January 28, with Mubarak’s change of course in hand, Bush put in a telephone call to congratulate him and say how extremely disappointed he was when the Karine A ship carrying weapons to PA territory was discovered “because I was led to believe [Arafat] was willing to join us in the fight on terror. I took him at his word.”
In the 15-minute conversation, Bush was quoted as saying: “…for there to be peace in the Middle east, we must rout out terror where it exists. And the US effort to rout out terror around the world is going to benefit the Middle East in the long run.”
The White House spokesman Ari Fleischer unusually released quotes from the president’s words to Mubarak to reporters. Their meaning was clear: since the Bush administration is committed to routing out terror everywhere, and Arafat was caught red-handed “enhancing terror”, he has made himself a target of the anti-terror war. Asked to comment on the arrest by the Palestinian Authority of Palestinian officers implicated in the Karine-A affair, Fleischer said the administration no longer believes Arafat’s claims, since the detainees are invariably set free.
All these steps add up to a clear US commitment to continue fighting terrorists everywhere including the Middle East. Bush’s words to Mubarak also leave the European Union out in the cold. In the last few hours, Israel is reported in the middle of final preparations for a major military operation against Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Sharon is going forward amid a friendly aura coming from Cairo instead of the old icy disapproval. The Palestinian leader will not have missed the shrinkage of the ground under his feet and can be expected to respond in typical Arafat fashion: by stepping up the violence