Washington Punishes Mubarak who Snipes at… Israel

It is no longer denied that Cairo has fallen down badly on its international commitments to provide security for the Gaza Strip in the period following Israel’s pull-back, or even control traffic through the Egyptian-Gazan terminal and Philadelphi border enclave.
debkafile described Egyptian lapses from the start of their deployment last autumn and accused prime minister Ariel Sharon, his deputies Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert, defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt. Gen Dan Halutz of entrusting Israel’s national security to pretty unreliable foreign hands, for the sake of their forced evacuation of the Gaza Strip last September.
it is now admitted – at least by Washington – that none of those “safeguards” held water. Terrorists troop back and forth through the Gazan-Egyptian border at will and lawless groups rule the roost in Gaza.
Most recently, the Israeli military unit, once charged with prospecting for weapons smuggling and explosive tunnels on the Philadelphi border with Egypt, struck pay dirt on the Israel-Gazan border area. They found a freshly-dug tunnel packed with explosives ready for a mega-attack on the Karni goods terminal, the lifeline for Palestinian exports to the outside world. Israel shut the Karni crossing down Tuesday, Jan 17.
Disillusioned with the Egyptian performance, the Bush administration and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who brokered some of the Egyptian-Israel-Palestinian deals, have gone after the Mubarak government. They have left Israel and the dysfunctional security of its southwestern border hostage to their row with Cairo. Cairo is now considering pulling all its forces out of the flashpoint areas, accentuating the vacuum there, not because Israel complained about being cheated of security – it did not raise a murmur – but because Washington has decided to draw the line.
The Egyptian ruler is seen to have reneged on all its commitments to the United States. Instead of holding a free election, Mubarak violently repressed the opposition, failed to impose democratic reforms and preserved his corrupt regime. In particular, he victimized the liberal presidential candidate, Ayman Nour, trumping of forgery charges to throw him into prison. The White House has therefore set harsh economic penalties in motion.
1. A high-level Egyptian delegation due in Washington shortly to discuss a free trade agreement has been cancelled. This is a lethal blow to Egypt’s exports which cannot possibly compete on the American market without this prop. As The Washington Post reported this week, “…Egypt will continue to lag behind Jordan, Morocco and other modernizing Arab states that enjoy tariff-free access to US markets… Egypt won’t join the global economic mainstream unless it abandons its corrupt dictatorship.”
2. George W. Bush has moreover turned down Cairo’s request for hundreds of millions of dollars above its regular aid allocation to cover the cost of its security projects in the Gaza Strip.
debkafile‘s military sources report 300 Egyptian military and intelligence personnel, headed by 16 generals, have been stationed in the Gaza Strip since last year as “security advisers” to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, two Egyptian border guards special forces brigades have been strung along the Philadelphi border strip between Gaza and Sinai, supposedly to maintain order and combat terrorism. Washington’s refusal to consider a special grant for this operation is a measure of its disappointment in the Egyptian performance since the launch of the Gaza security program last year. This leaves Mubarak with the two options of putting up the funding himself or suspending the operation.
It turns out therefore that, while only holding the threat of sanctions over the heads of Syria and Iran for their misdeeds, Washington has imposed de facto economic penalties on an Arab ally. Mubarak promptly hit back – not with a broadside against the US president but a sideswipe for Israel. Tuesday, Jan 17, he complained after meeting visiting US vice president Dick Cheney in Cairo that the West was turning a blind eye and deaf ear to Israel’s atomic program while making a fuss about Iran.
The Egyptian ruler aimed to put a spoke in the American wheel by diverting international pressure from Iran to Israel, hoping thereby to blunt the edge of the US-European effort to arrest Iran’s dash for a nuclear weapon at its most sensitive juncture.

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