Sarkozy Tries His Hand again with the Radical Iran-Syria Camp
The Arab world's profound schism over its attitude towards Hamas and the Gaza conflict was epitomized at the Arab League's foreign ministers' emergency meeting in Cairo Wednesday, Dec. 31, on the fifth day of the war. In 16 hours of hammer-and-tongs debate, they failed to agree on common action.
Their communique was a cop-out, too bland to paper over their argument: It called on Palestinian factions “to put aside their differences” and urged the UN Security Council to issue a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Abul Gheit and prince Saudi al Faisal, engaged their Qatari and Syrian colleagues, Walid al-Moallem and Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, in a heated debate on a single point: How Hamas ought to come out of the current crisis.
Having lost its quasi-parental status with Hamas after the fundamentalist Palestinian group seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, Cairo wants to see it beaten badly enough to crawl back to the Palestinian Authority and under the wing of its chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia want the PA restored to power in the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank, so healing the Hamas-Fatah rift and reuniting the two Palestinian territories
Riyadh poured millions into Hamas' coffers to back its hoped-for rise as a kind of Palestinian Taliban, a strong Middle East Sunni militia to counter the rising power of the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah. In their worst dreams the Saudis never expected to discover their protegee in the arms of the enemy, Iran, Syria and the Lebanese group.
Mubarak throws Hamas and Gaza to the winds
Qatar has taken on the Saudi role as Hamas' senior banker.
The Al-Thanis support the molding of Hamas into the Tehran-Syrian-Hizballah operational arm in the Palestinian community. This foothold has given the Iranian-led camp regional standing in the Arab arena and a jumping-off point for challenging the two Sunni powers, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
With these gaping differences, it is no wonder that the Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo could not agree on how to help Hamas extricate itself from being crushed by Israel.
Egypt has the biggest stake of them all in the outcome of the Gaza conflict, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources report – which is why President Hosni Mubarak is out there walking a tight rope.
Since Israel went to war on Hamas Saturday, Dec. 27, Mubarak has made a point of spurning Egyptian responsibility for the Gaza Strip. Notwithstanding Israel's evacuation of the territory in 2005, he insists it is under Israeli occupation and therefore Israel's responsibility. Egypt refuses to reopen the only Gaza crossing to Sinai at Rafah until the termination of hostilities and demands that Israel open its six crossings for humanitarian aid.
Israel has in fact has allowed up to 100 truckloads of aid to go through one gateway to Gaza every day since Sunday, Dec. 28.
Mubarak's actions are guided by his anxiety over a serious problem thrown up by recent history.
Hamas, which started out as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement, has won a Palestinian election and acquired a sovereign territory. He fears that the appetite of the parent movement, the outlawed Brotherhood, will be whetted by the Hamas model and it may try by covert means to emulate it. The Egyptian president would prefer to see Hamas crushed by Israel before the Brotherhood gets the idea of seizing a slice of Egyptian territory and ruling it with the help of an Islamic militia of its own.
Sarkozy on a truce mission to salvage his flagging Mid East policies
He and his military, intelligence and financial advisers also fear that the Hamas rocket offensive against Israel may be turned against Egypt somewhere down the road and threaten the regime.
Therefore, Mubarak is going to great lengths to prevent any link between the Gaza Strip and Egyptian territory and, by definition, between Hamas and the Egyptian Brotherhood.
These concerns do not reach the public domain. In fact, foreign minister Gheit subscribed to the Arab League meeting's decision to send PA chairman Abbas to the UN Security Council with a demand for a resolution halting the Israeli assault.
At this point, Cairo's path crossed with that of Nicolas Sarkozy, who decided in mid-week to invite himself to a whirlwind tour of Middle East capitals including Jerusalem next week. His official mission is to promote the 48-hour “humanitarian ceasefire” he proposed to the European Union. What he is really after is a chance to save his flagging Middle East strategy.
Sarkozy's trouble is that he found out too late that he had mistakenly trusted Syrian president Bashar Assad to break with Iran, dump his terrorist friends and stop meddling in Lebanon for the sake of being lionized by the French president.
Sarkozy made him guest of honor at another failed venture, the francophone Mediterranean Union, which never took off. Assad went straight back from Paris to join his radical friends.
He was not the first Western leader to be taken in by Assad as more than one US emissary can testify. After enthusiastically backing the Doha Lebanon Unity Accord in May, 2008 and its avowed goal of stabilizing Beirut, the French leader discovered that the much hyped accord was nothing but a fig leaf behind which Damascus and Hizballah could quietly sink their claws into the Lebanese government and military.
When Israel launched its offensive against Hamas, Sarkozy pounced on another chance of cutting a figure as a global diplomat.