Analysis: Iranian threat to Egypt is nothing new - but the tactics may be changing

Egyptian officials have been grilling Israel about Iran's nuclear threat and Israel's plans regarding it.

Nasrallah at mike 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
Nasrallah at mike 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 1 [file])
Egypt's concern with Iran's growing regional influence is not new. For years now, during visits to Cairo, defense delegations have been pressed by officials from the Egyptian Intelligence Ministry and the President's Office about the Iranian nuclear threat and what Israel intends to do about it. Egypt, a regional superpower, is a Sunni state. If the Shi'ites in Iran go nuclear, Egypt has reason to be concerned. Ongoing tensions broke the surface this week with the confrontation between Cairo and Hizbullah. First, there was Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's admission that Hizbullah has been operating a terrorist network on Egyptian soil, which according to recent reports, was behind efforts to smuggle weaponry into the Gaza Strip, attack vacation spots frequented by Israelis and undermine the regime even with the assassination of President Hosni Mubarak. Officially, the Israeli political and defense establishment is keeping quiet, and except for President Shimon Peres's statement on Monday that it is good that others are fighting and not Israel, no one is speaking publicly about what is happening to Israel's south. Behind closed doors, and when speaking off the record, though, defense officials are rubbing their hands with glee since the news coming out of Cairo in recent days is an important demonstration to the world that the threat posed by a nuclear Iran and its proxy Hizbullah is not just to Israel but to the entire Middle East and specifically the most populous Arab country - Egypt. Jerusalem and Cairo have over the years developed close ties on issues of mutual concern. Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, speaks often with Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as with Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau. While the Egyptian intelligence agencies have impressive capabilities, they are perceived to be mostly applicable to events inside Egypt, not overseas. Israel as well as other Western countries could help Egypt fill that void. If that happened in this case, we will likely not immediately know. While Jerusalem is concerned that Hizbullah terrorist cells are operating in Egypt to strike at Israeli vacationers, what is just as worrying, or possibly even more so, are the cell's plans to attack the regime and undermine President Hosni Mubarak's hold over Egypt. If Mubarak is assassinated or his government falls, Israel could find itself facing an Egyptian military consisting US-made Abrams Tanks, Apache Helicopters, F-16 fighter jets and Harpoon Missiles in the hands of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, the official founding father of Hamas.