Seventeen months ago, on Nov. 21, 2012, Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, and the since deposed Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi were putting their heads together in Cairo to fashion a bold new Middle East realignment.
It never took off but its shadow pursues the region up into the present.
The new alignment was to be composed of Turkey, Qatar, and the Palestinian extremist Hamas which ruled the Gaza Strip and headed up by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Israel would covertly support the alliance with intelligence assistance and, if need be, military support.
This grouping would serve the Obama administration’s goals of making Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood top dog of the region and, in so doing, curbing the momentum of the radical Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah axis and muting the influence of the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia.
While Clinton and Morsi were communing on this plan in Cairo, the Israeli Army was massing one mechanized division and six armored battalions at the gates of the Gaza Strip, awaiting the order to move across and round off Operational Defensive Cloud by delivering the coup de grace to Hamas and putting an end to the missile campaign bedeviling southern Israel for nearly a decade.
Simmering under the surface of these events, Al Qaeda plotters in Egypt and Libya were secretly plotting assaults on the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Libya.
Twenty days later, on September 11, 2012, the consulate was stormed by terrorists who murdered US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three of his CIA-linked staffers were murdered.
Netanyahu suspended 2012 Gaza operation to bolster Hamas against Abbas
To this day, US administration officials refuse to connect the two events, although the Benghazi episode may yet haunt the former Secretary of State if she runs for president.
But back in 2012, Clinton was busy building the new US-backed “moderate” alliance. She offered the Egyptian president a deal: If Morsi agreed to join, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, she had been informed, would call off his projected military incursion of the Gaza Strip and, for good measure, let Egypt, Turkey and Qatar in to rebuild its ruined infrastructure and lay the ground for its economic and political stability.
Asked to elaborate, she explained that Netanyahu had consented in secret talks to the buttressing of Hamas as a counterweight to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his Fatah faction in Ramallah. At the time, Abbas was bent on procuring Palestinian statehood by an application to the UN to avoid peace talks with Israel.
Morsi accepted the deal. But on the quiet, he ordered his minions to set in motion the Al Qaeda-Muslim Brotherhood terrorist conspiracies – both in Cairo and Benghazi.
Netanyahu, for his part, put his Gaza infantry operation on hold and endorsed the Egyptian-brokered negotiations for a ceasefire.
Morsi’s ouster broke up the nine-month old alliance
The Obama administration plan carried forward by Secretary Clinton envisaged Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government as the responsible enforcer of peace, starting with the Hamas-Israeli ceasefire.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan played his part in the nascent alliance by putting the brakes on his harsh anti-Israel rhetoric to start resolving the feud sparked by the Israeli Navy’s assault on the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel earlier that year to prevent it breaking the Gaza blockade.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who in October 2012 became the first Arab ruler to visit the Gaza Strip, chipped in with a hefty transfer of millions of dollars to Hamas in Gaza, to start the Clinton ball rolling.
But, just nine months later, the new bedfellows were abruptly thrown apart by Morsi’s ouster July 3, 2013 in a coup d’etat led by Egyptian strongman and military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, whose rule was cemented this week by a 97-percent vote in the elections for president.
Whether or not El-Sisi was helped to his victory by Israeli intelligence is moot. At all events, at a given moment, Israel turned away from Clinton’s bloc and decided to work with El-Sisi and Saudi Arabia against her plan, for reasons that deserve close examination as a separate topic.
However that sequence of events is highly relevant today, because it leads directly, according to DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East intelligence sources, to this week’s decision by the Obama administration.
Netanyahu government’s Palestinian strategy in tatters
The establishment of a Palestinian government of reconciliation in Ramallah Monday, June 2, was immediately accepted by Washington. The State Department spokeswoman stressed that the US regarded the new Cabinet as made up of technocrats and that it was willing to do business with it.
"At this point, it appears that President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas," she told reporters.
"Based on what we know now we intend to work with this government but will be watching closely to ensure that it upholds principles that President Abbas reiterated today," she said, referring to Abbas' commitment to honor past peace deals and the principles underlying the peace process with Israel.
Washington’s haste in accepting a government backed by the very same Hamas radical movement badly upset the Netanyahu government, which was not mollified by its promise to keep a close watch on the new regime.
Jerusalem pulled out a written commitment that Netanyahu said he had received from Clinton in November 2012 as part of the multiple deal she pulled off in Cairo. It was a pledge to withhold US recognition from any Palestinian government in which Hamas was a participant.
Washington countered with a document of its own that showed the US commitment as having been not to support a Palestinian government whose ministers promote violence (without citing Hamas by name) but free to accept a Palestinian unity government, in which Hamas did not participate. Israel was entitled by this document to freely voice its objections
Since the administration asserts that the new Palestinian administration is manned by technocrats, not politicians, Washington was not breaking its commitment.
Set back by this exchange, Netanyahu’s initial public reaction to the event in Ramallah was milder than might have been expected – much heated talk, but no significant concrete action.