Some senior Egyptian officials are in favor of UN-imposed sanctions on Iran, and Cairo has strategic concerns about Iran "remarkably similar" to those in Jerusalem, an American Jewish Committee leader said Monday after two days of talks in Cairo. Jason Isaacson, the AJC's director of international affairs, said he walked away from meetings with top Egyptian officials feeling that "they are concerned that Iran, which already presents a threat to the region because it foments extremism and subsidizes terrorism, will only be a more potent threat if it gets nuclear capabilities."
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While in Cairo, Isaacson, along with AJC president Robert Goodkind and board member Barry Wallach, met with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and Osama El Baz, President Hosni Mubarak's political adviser. They also met with officials of the Egyptian Human Rights Council, analysts at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Egyptian Foreign Ministry aides, and US and Israeli diplomats.
Isaacson said one official spoke of the danger of a "naive" approach by some in the international community toward Iran. According to Isaacson, the official said it was not realistic to believe that dialogue with Teheran would get it to alter its course, and that "the sanctions card should be played."
"We heard a remarkable similarity between Egyptian and Israeli strategic concerns about Iran," Isaacson said. "We heard their concerns about Iran's political influence, its promotion of extremism and aggressiveness that I hadn't heard before. They laid out a case against Iran similar to what is heard in Jerusalem and Washington."
While these Egyptian sentiments are not publicly articulated, Isaacson said they were likely discussed in private with European diplomats and members of the United Nations Security Council. He said the Egyptians were concerned about Iranian influence and creating Hizbullah-like entities in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Regarding the Palestinian track, Isaacson said the Egyptians were very interested in "rejuvenating" the diplomatic process, and that Gheit said there was a desperate need to "advance Israeli-Palestinian peace," especially in light of this summer's turmoil.
Isaacson said he got a sense that the Egyptians realize the "world is a more dangerous place, and as a result they have more in common with Israel than in the past." He said that while the Egyptians became critical of Israel's campaign against Hizbullah after the bombing in Kafr Kana, it "was clear this was only in reaction to a restive public. They were not against delivering a fatal blow to Hizbullah. Their strategic concept is not different than Israel regarding the danger of Hizbullah and Iran. They see it as totally linked."
The delegation arrived in Israel from Cairo on Monday and met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. AJC executive director David Harris, who took part in that meeting, said Olmert believes the world has "awoken" to the danger posed by Iran, and that Israel did it a service by exposing the Iranian-Hizbullah connection and threat. Olmert, according to Harris, said the world now sees what it is up against with Iran.
On the Lebanese front, Harris said Olmert expressed confidence that the combination of Lebanese deployment in south Lebanon, plus the international soldiers, will force Hizbullah to "lay low." Olmert reportedly noted that over the last two weeks Hizbullah had not been seen, even though the IDF was sill in Lebanon.
Harris, who described Olmert as "sounding optimistic," quoted him as saying that Hizbullah received a clear message that, "If you touch an Israeli, you're going to face all of Israel, and we are not going to hesitate to use our full power."