White House Invitation Is Delayed, So Abbas Heads to Moscow
It doesn’t take a military genius to appreciate that the suspension of Palestinian Qassam missile attacks from Gaza to Israel’s western Negev desert, lauded as Mahmoud Abbas‘s greatest achievement, has little to do with the sparse deployment of Palestinian Authority forces at the northern Gaza launching sites. The makeshift missiles are no longer slamming into Sderot because of Israel’s surrender, plain and simple, to Hamas demands as slapped down by Abbas (Abu Mazen).
(More about this in HOT POINTS: “Sharon Gambles on Abbas by Capitulating to Hamas)
Abu Mazen’s decision to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas alone, knowing other terrorist groups, such as Islamic Jihad and al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, would follow its lead, virtually invited the Hamas to raise the ante.
Egypt, too, is in no hurry to pressure Hamas to wrap up the talks. President Hosni Mubarak knows the moment the negotiations end and Hamas and Abu Mazen seal a deal, Egypt will not be able to avoid sending more troops into northern Sinai to secure its
borders with Israel and Gaza. While declaring it is not averse to this step, Cairo is strongly opposed to any deep involvement in this issue for now.
As far as Egypt is concerned, Israeli can continue to put up with the border badlands and the Gazan smuggler gangs which secrete weapons in from Sinai for terrorist use. Privately, Egyptian officials say this is the only way they can exercise some sort of control over the types and quantities of weapons reaching Palestinian gunmen. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources say Egypt’s argument holds water; recently, its security forces in Sinai prevented a variety of missiles – shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles and short-range surface-to-surface missiles – from reaching Gaza.
On the other hand, by failing to seal the border, Egypt has effectively become the main weapons supplier to the Palestinians and their terrorist groups.
So when Abu Mazen travels to Cairo Friday, January 28, he will again try to prevail on Egyptian officials to help extract a ceasefire deal from Hamas. This may be unrealistic. The best he can hope for is an oral understanding with Hamas on a form of truce with no formal commitment. Cairo is being evasive and making no promises to help the Palestinian leader achieve his objective.
Omar Suleiman’s secret illness
Egypt’s evasions are partially explained, our Cairo sources reveal, by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman‘s severe illness. It is being kept dark by Cairo in consideration of Suleiman’s key role as point man in covert contacts with extremist Muslim terrorist groups in different parts of the world. Word of his indisposition could be extremely damaging to Egyptian interests, the US intelligence network in the Middle East and the global war on terrorism.
Washington is watching from the sidelines, waiting for Condoleezza Rice to be sworn in as secretary of state at week’s end before tackling regional crises. The only practical step taken by the Bush administration since Abbas took charge of the Palestinian Authority was to inform him that his invitation to the White House had been put on hold.
The state department has described his first steps as “encouraging,” but the Bush administration wants to see real action against terrorists emerging from the abundance of media spin accompanying his every move.
Instead of hanging about, Abu Mazen, who is proving he can be a fast mover, turned secretly to Moscow to open the way for an invitation to the Kremlin and talks with Vladimir Putin.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, he will fly directly to Moscow from his visit to Cairo, Saturday, January 29, and meet Putin on Monday or Tuesday. He will be the second Arab leader to have seen Putin in the past 10 days, following in the footsteps of Syrian president Bashar Assad. Washington and Jerusalem will be curious to see just what Moscow has to offer the new Palestinian leader and where Russia’s Middle East policy is heading. Israeli-Russian relations have cooled, but Washington is not quite certain why. Is Putin angry over Israeli sanctuary for some of his worst enemies in the Russian oligarchy – some of whose money and financial advisers have fled to the Jewish state? Or is he upset over information he recently received from his intelligence chiefs accusing Israeli businessmen and emissaries in Ukraine – in reality, intelligence operatives – of helping Viktor Yushchenko win his Orange Revolution?
Washington does not think any of this adds up to the cause of a sea change in Russia’s regional policy, and it will be anxious to see just what Putin offers Abu Mazen.
In any case, the United States believes it can count on Abbas to keep his Moscow visit “symbolic” and not risk losing the critical US intelligence, security and financial help he needs to carry out his plans. One thing both Washington and Abu Mazen agree on is that Moscow will not be offering the Palestinians money.