Washington and Jerusalem were dismayed to discover last week that Egypt's transitional military rulers (SCAF) were preparing to drop the reins of government and hand them over – lock, stock and barrel, including the armed forces – to civilian rule, i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood, at the earliest opportunity. This decision upends the Obama administration's plans for post-Mubarak: The military rulers were to have stayed in place until a new, democratic constitution was drafted and a moderate president acceptable to the Egyptian people elected.
But the generals seem to have despaired of getting Egypt back on its feet after the turmoil of the 12-month uprising and are anxious to escape the country's plunge into chaos, economic breakdown and the uncertainties of an approaching Middle East war.
Led by SCAF chairman Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the military is resolved not to wait for the next two stages of the democratic transition to go through. They are on the run – even if this means handing Egypt on a silver platter to the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist colleagues whose parties have dominated the three rounds of parliamentary elections.
Indeed, according to debkafile's Washington and intelligence sources, Tantawi has already struck a deal to hand over the presidential powers vested in him provisionally to the incoming Speaker of Parliament, the choice of whom is up to the Brotherhood.
After Mubarak's downfall, the Netanyahu government originally agreed to align its policy with the Obama administration's line. It was one of the understandings contained in package agreed between the two governments which also covered plans for Iran and the prisoner swap for releasing Gilead Shalit from Hamas captivity. Until now, therefore, Israel has gone along with line dictated by Washington to act as though there was nothing amiss in relations with Cairo, although Israel has already had to pay a prohibitive price for this pretense – mainly in terms of its security.
It entailed holding silent when the Palestinian fundamentalist Hamas went through the motions of cutting its ties with Iran and Syria and moving closer to the putatively "moderate" Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This pretense paved the way for the radical organization's acceptance in the good graces of the West.
But in truth, those ties were never severed. While circulating reports about an imminent transfer of Hamas headquarters out of Damascus, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal was discovered secretly acting as go-between to broker a deal between Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Arab League.
Hamas' Gaza leader Mahmoud a-Zahar then made it crystal clear that the organization had – and never would – change its ideological spots or the strategic doctrines which mandate Palestinian armed struggle until Israel is destroyed.
By staying mute while these processes ripened, Israel eased the way for the generals to consider dropping Egypt into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood without US interference and helped open the door to relations of cooperation between Islamist Cairo and Washington.
It also emboldened Muslim Brotherhood leaders to declare repeatedly that they have never been bound by any pledges to Washington to uphold the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, flatly denying reports to the contrary.
In a twelfth-hour bid to retrieve a portion of Obama's Arab Spring policy wreckage in Egypt, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent her senior deputy for Middle East affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Cairo last week to try and slow down the military junta's transfer of power to the Islamists and perhaps rescue the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which has been an anchor of Middle East stability for three decades.