Netanyahu-Mubarak Talks Aim to produce Arab-Israeli Front versus Iran
If successful, Binyamin Netanyahu’s first meeting as Israeli prime minister with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el Sheikh Monday, May 11, may well mark an epic turning-point in Middle East history recalling the 1979 peace breakthrough with Egypt. Their common goals – and Mubarak speaks for the Saudi king Abdullah on this issue – are the formation of an Arab-Israeli front against Iran and putting a spoke in US president Barack Obama’s planned detente with Tehran.
Most of all, the Netanyahu government utterly rejects the Palestinian-Iran tradeoff proposed by the Obama administration – and reaffirmed by US National adviser Gen. James Jones Sunday – that a two state-solution would diminish Iran’s existential threat to Israel.
Israel points out that no guarantees are offered for the latter. Therefore, Netanyahu prefers to put the Iranian menace on a different, regional footing. Last Monday, May 4, in a message to the Israeli lobby in Washington, he said pointedly: “For the first time in my lifetime,” Arabs and Jews see a common danger. There is a great challenge afoot. But that challenge also presents great opportunities.”
This was no idle talk. debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that the groundwork for the Mubarak-Netanyahu tete-a-tete was laid by Egypt’s intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman in the two days he spent in Jerusalem on April 22-23.
Officially, the Palestinians were the purpose of his talks – Suleiman has long acted as middleman between feuding Palestinian factions. In fact, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas were the subjects of his intense discussions with Israel’s government heads and his opposite numbers in Mossad, military intelligence and the General Security Service (Shin Bet). They covered the Radical Four’s next moves and their potential military responses to a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear and strategic and infrastructure.
From Jerusalem, the Egyptian official headed for Riyadh to bring the Saudis into the planning picture.
He went straight into conference with King Abdullah and the Saudi chief of general intelligence, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, after which Muqrin secretly visited Cairo for a long session with Mubarak attended only by the Egyptian intelligence chief.
This diplomatic flurry, according to debkafile‘s sources, aimed at establishing an informal Israel-Egyptian-Saudi framework for working together – this time on the Iranian issue, but not for the first time. The outcome of the culminating Mubarak-Netanyahu talks Monday will bear strongly on their meetings with President Obama later this month. When he arrives in Washington on May 18, the Israeli prime minister will no doubt have new ideas in his briefcase.
Before the outbreak of Israel’s 2006 war with the Lebanese Hizballah, the then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and his intelligence chiefs met with Saudi national security adviser, Prince Bandar bin Sultan in the Jordanian capital of Amman several times to coordinate Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli moves against the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah front.
When Israeli launched its Gaza offensive against Hamas on Dec. 27, 2008, Jerusalem and Cairo were closely aligned on the various phases of warfare. For the duration of the 22-day conflict, Israel kept Egypt abreast of the action and Cairo updated Riyadh.
This was Israel’s first operation against an Arab target to be backed by an Egyptian-Saudi consensus.
The difference between the two Israeli military ventures was that its collaboration with Egypt won the approval of the US president, then George W, Bush. For the Gaza operation, US approval was withdrawn by the new man in the White House.
But the setback in Washington only served to spur the three silent partners’ motives for working together when their interests converge, this time against Iran’s rise as a nuclear and regional power.
The Obama administration’s outreach to Tehran and rehabilitation of Damascus served as a catalyst, accelerated by broad hints of US willingness to approve engagement with Hizballah and Hamas.
Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi rulers presume Washington has abdicated its commitment to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and a lead-position in the Middle East. They take this retreat as a step toward America’s reconciliation with the Islamic Republic. All three oppose this policy and resent being cast to the political and military sidelines of the region in the US president’s consciousness.
His emissaries failed to allay these concerns when they circulated around Arab capitals in the last fortnight. It was pointed out to them that the new US administration had not lifted a finger to slow Iran’s nuclear development in its first 100 days. If the issue was dropped to the bottom of Washington’s agenda with Tehran, it would be too late.
Israel was ready to pay a steep price for Egypt’s tacit and practical support by halting its Gaza operation last January short of the goals of crushing Hamas and overthrowing its government. Netanyahu has bought the proposition that he will have to pay Mubarak again in the coin of concessions to the Palestinians when they meet in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday. But the Israeli leader believes it is worth paying for the sake of a working partnership with Egypt and Saudi Arabia against Iran.
In strategic-historic terms, he believes that would be a more advantageous deal than succumbing to American arm-twisting. After all, Cairo and Riyadh are willing to stand up shoulder to shoulder with Israel against Iran – unlike the Obama administration.