More on Egyptian Factor in Arms Ship Affair
Egyptian foreign minister Ali Maher said Monday night, January 7, that the “conflicting reports coming from Israel” on the Karine-A seizure arouse increasing doubts. In particular, he questioned Israel’s assertion that the ship’s course was set for the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip via the Suez Canal. Maher repeated debkafile‘s earlier argument that this made no sense, considering that Egyptian security would have detected any arms cargo sailing up the Canal. Earlier, he condemned the whole episode as an Israeli fabrication.
debkafile‘s Jerusalem and Cairo sources believe that the Egyptian foreign minister’s harangue was provoked less by Israel’s actions and more by the disclosures made a few hours earlier by the Karine-A’s captain, Omar Akawi, during media interviews in Ashkelon jail. One of his three most telling disclosures was his description of how the arms shipment was loaded in Iranian seas from eight in the evening until five the next morning, a total of nine hours. Another was that the Karine-A had sailed in Egyptian waters, a disclosure he quickly corrected to “between Egyptian and international waters”.
If Akawi’s first slip of the tongue was a Freudian giveaway, it has two inferences: one, that the Israeli takeover took place in Egyptian waters. The other is that someone on the Egyptian shore must have kept a protective eye on the boat’s passage, which is why the captain was told to hug the Egyptian rather than the Saudi coast of the Red Sea. Akawi himself may have been kept in ignorance of the plan. At one point he said he warned his Greece-based handler Adel Awadallah (whom Israel identifies as Adel Mughrabi, the Palestinian Authority officer in charge of smuggling operations) that there was little chance of the operation succeeding since Israel, the US or Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal, could all stop the ship and confiscate the weapons. So he knew that he could not venture into Egyptian coastal waters with impunity.
A shadowy Egyptian role in the affair emerges even more strongly from Awaki’s third disclosure: his orders to make for Alexandria, Egypt, through the Suez Canal, where three smaller vessels would pick up the cargo. Loaded in airtight containers, they would then be placed in the Mediterranean and allowed to drift towards the Gaza coast.
Assuming the Israeli navy and air force had not intercepted the munitions ship in the Red Sea, the Palestinian vessel would have navigated the Suez Canal, come out in the Mediterranean and headed west to Alexandria, rather than northeast to Gaza.
Alexandria is most likely the port of call the Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz referred to on Sunday in Eilat, when asked for proof that the cargo was bound for the Palestinians – not Lebanon and the Hizballah. He was understandably cagey about naming the Egyptian port. But Akawi admitted that the Karine-A was making for Alexandria and therefore nowhere near Lebanon.
Having disposed of that point, Akawi’s orders to make for Alexandria make no sense at all without a friendly presence in the port. The very large Egyptian fleet’s destroyers, frigates, missile boats, fast craft, submarines and marine helicopters, together with its advanced coastal radar, guarantee that no unauthorized intruders come anywhere near the Egyptian coast – let alone the big port-city of Alexandria or the Suez Canal’s outlet.
Could a 4,000-ton munitions vessel conceivably expect to anchor several hours off Alexandria port and unload its 50-ton cargo crate by crate into small boats undetected and undisturbed? These puzzles are solved, in the view of debkafile‘s military sources, only by a protective presence on the Egyptian mainland escorting the Karine-A through Egyptian waters and making sure it was left in peace off Alexandria. Such agents would have disappeared fast when the Israeli military came on the scene to seize the Palestinian arms ship.
The possibility of this mysterious agency being an anti-Egyptian subversive element does not make foreign minister Maher’s task lighter. He would rather go on the verbal offensive than expose grave security problems inside Egypt itself. It is not surprising therefore that Egyptian officials are becoming increasingly nervous the more discoveries spill out on the Karine-A affair