(photo credit: AP [file])
After an Egyptian official said Hizbullah would pay "a heavy price" for what Cairo alleges were attempts to carry out terror attacks inside the country, Iran dismissed the accusations as an "old trick" aimed at influencing the Lebanese parliamentary elections, and accused Israel of involvement.
"Labels against... Hizbullah and [its chief Sheikh] Hassan Nasrallah are an old and frayed trick and will not achieve anything," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by Iran's Fars news agency.
Mottaki also said Israel and "hands from outside the region" were seeking to "create problems" in the June 7 elections.
"The Zionist regime will not succeed in this political plot," he said.
Meanwhile, Hizbullah deputy head Naim Kassem reiterated the group's insistence that Cairo's claims were fabricated. He said Egypt wanted to muddy Hizbullah's name and image, and get back at the group for calling on Cairo to open the Rafah border crossing.
"We have one enemy, that's Israel," said Kassem. "Egypt is not our enemy."
Cairo and Hizbullah have been on a collision course since last week, when Egyptian security forces arrested 49 people accused of plotting to carry out attacks against tourists in the Sinai Peninsula.
The investigation carried out by the Egyptians even resulted in fire exchanges between Egyptian officers and Sinai Beduin when the officers wanted to search the Beduin's residence for Hizbullah terrorists on Monday night.
Furthermore, Hizbullah loyalists purchased a building in Cairo and several buildings in the Sinai and were using them as bases, Egyptian sources claimed.
On Wednesday, a top official was quoted by Al Ahram as saying that Egypt would not necessarily attack Hizbullah installations or kill members of the terror group, but Hizbullah members, including ministers in the Lebanese government, might be banned from entering Egypt.
After the interrogation of Hizbullah suspects in Egypt is finished, "treatment of the organization will be different from what it has been in the past," the official promised.
Animosity between the Sunni African country and the Shi'ite terror group flared in the wake of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, when Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on Egyptians to storm the streets in protest. Back then, Egyptian officials fumed at Nasrallah and accused him of trying to provoke a coup d'etat in Egypt.
But recent developments also stem from historical animosity between Sunni-Arab Egypt and Shi'ite-non-Arab Iran, Hizbullah's patron and enabler.
On Tuesday, the larger regional conflict implicit in the Egypt-Hizbullah clash became explicit when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told the London-based Asharq Alawsat that "Iran, and Iran's followers want Egypt to become a maid of honor for the crowned Iranian queen when she enters the Middle East." He was referring to Hizbullah's activity in Egypt, which Cairo interprets as Iranian meddling in its internal affairs.
Meanwhile, Al Quds al Arabi reported Wednesday that Jordan had raised its level of alert following the allegations of Hizbullah activity in Egypt.
According to the London-based paper, the move came despite the lack of specific warnings on possible terror cells working in the Hashemite kingdom.
Apart from the possibility that Hizbullah sleeper cells might be operating in the country, the monarchy also fears that cells affiliated with the Sunni terror group al Qaida might attempt to infiltrate Israel via the Jordanian border, the report said.