Saudi King Abdullah has taken fright from Hamas’ wild rampage across the Gaza borders into Egyptian Sinai. He has warned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that extreme steps must be taken to check the Palestinian fundamentalists without delay.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that foreign minister Saud al-Faisal was sent post-haste to Cairo Thursday, Feb. 7, with an urgent message. Its main theme: Events in the Gaza Strip and Sinai and the escalating war between Hamas and Israel are beginning to pose a threat to the stability of the Saudi throne as well as the Egyptian regime. Hamas, he said, had removed itself from the Arab mainstream and was running amok.
After funding the radical Palestinian Sunni Hamas for years, the Saudi monarch is filled with trepidation. He perceives the Hamas-orchestrated surge into northern Sinai as a coup, the second in seven months, after its conquest of the Gaza strip from the Palestinian Authority. The Saudi ruler sees Hamas turning its back on its two Arab patrons, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and moving over into the extremist Iranian-Syrian orbit.
This is a serious blow for US Middle East objectives and a corresponding triumph for Tehran and Damascus. It could plant dangerous ideas in the heads of the Saudi religious establishment and the Muslim Brotherhood branches in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. They are watching their Palestinian offshoot first seize Arab territory by force, then engineer a mass exodus to grab a slice of territory from the largest Arab nation, Egypt.
Abdullah fears Hamas’ actions will kindle an existential crisis for the throne as great as that generated by al Qaeda before its suppression.
The Saudi monarch had nothing but criticism for Israel, which he accused of deliberately sparking the crisis by its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
(DEBKA-Net-Weekly: Thursday, Israel announced a cutback in its electricity supply to the Gaza Strip by 5 percent for every day that the Palestinian missile blitz continues. Israeli provides the Hamas-ruled territory with 70 pc of its current.)
Egypt decides to crack down
In Abdullah’s view, the government headed by Ehud Olmert is scheming to eventually push Hamas, Jihad Islami and other hostile Palestinians out of Gaza and into Sinai, where they and hundreds of thousands of their adherents will be detained in refugee camps.
This will once and for all put an end to the Palestinian missile offensive against Israel and ease its recapture of Gaza at a low cost in casualties, the King believes.
Foreign minister Faisal told the Egyptian president that his mission to Cairo was to defuse the powder keg.
The Saudi minister visited Cairo twice and Damascus once on this errand.
Abdullah’s message to Mubarak was simple: Every ounce of Egypt’s military strength must be mobilized to push the Palestinians back from Sinai into the Gaza Strip and halt the violent clashes on the Gaza-Sinai border.
He did not rule out the extreme option of Egypt recapturing the Gaza Strip before Israel did and then handing it back to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas.
To Syrian president Bashar Assad, the Saudi foreign minister delivered a stern warning from the king: Continue to back Hamas and the existing frictions between Riyadh and Damascus would degenerate into an unbridgeable rift.
Wednesday, Feb. 6, Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualam arrived by a special Syrian flight at Sharm el-Sheikh for talks with Mubarak. He brought with him a proposition from Assad: Damascus would force the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is hosted by Syria, to pull his movement back from its confrontation with Egypt; in return, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would let Syria have its way with Lebanon and permit the election of a pro-Damascus president.
The Egyptian ruler was so angry he practically threw the Syrian minister out.
Thursday night, Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit addressed Hamas in exceptionally harsh tones, saying: “Anyone who breaches the border will have their legs broken.”