Analyze This: Egypt's tunnel vision - and ours

Cairo's relationship with J'lem is the foundation of its US aid.

Gaza kids (photo credit: )
Gaza kids
(photo credit: )
It would appear that the veteran Palestinian smuggler whose interview appeared on Wednesday in the Australian newspaper The Age didn't get the memo from Cairo in which Egyptian authorities insist they are doing everything they can to prevent tunnels being dug beneath the Gaza/Sinai border. "We are completely dependent on our Egyptian sources, and they have a certain amount of space they are allowed to play in," says the smuggler identified as "Abu Mussab," whose income can range from $10,000 a month when commercial goods are involved, to 20 times that amount when it is weapons coming through his tunnels. Presumably Abu Mussab can't be accused of being part of either the "Israel lobby" or the "Israel media campaign" that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit blamed on Wednesday for trying to hurt his nation's interests in Congress, where a few lawmakers have recently talked about conditioning some of the foreign aid Cairo receives on the efforts it makes in stopping the arms flow into Gaza. There is considerable irony in Gheit's blaming Israeli sources for damaging Egypt's interests in Washington, especially when it comes to the hefty military and development aid package that comes to some $2 billion annually. The Egyptian foreign minister conveniently forgets that this assistance only began to flow in such amounts after the late president Anwar Sadat first began making peace with Israel 30 years ago. Certainly the nearly $60b. sent to Egypt since hasn't been for Cairo's support of other key US foreign policy aims in the region, such as the US military efforts in Iraq or the efforts to encourage reform in the Arab world - both of which the Mubarak government has determinedly opposed. In fact, it is fair to say that at this stage, the tenor of Cairo's relationship with Jerusalem is the very foundation of the aid it receives from the US. Thus, the only real lobby it has among the American public is the supporters of Israel who see this assistance as essential for preserving the (cold) peace between the Middle East powers. So if, as some Israeli security sources have suggested, the Egyptians are deliberately practicing a form of benign negligence on the border in order to maintain its relationship with Hamas - as well as showing a preference to have these weapons move from Egyptian territory into Gaza, where they threaten Israel's security more than their own - then this is a terribly shortsighted approach. However, if it is truly more of a case of simple incompetence and corruption among its own forces, then the Mubarak government will have no one to blame but itself when Congress starts to wonder whether all that military aid they approve each year is being well-spent. At any rate, it is not Israel's advocates in the US, nor the Israeli media, that is primarily making the case against Egypt's failure to halt the weapons flowing through the tunnels. This newspaper may indeed have been the first to break the story of the IDF videotape of smuggling along the Egyptian-Gaza border being sent to Washington, but it was the security establishment that made the tape, and elements in it that later leaked that it was not being shown to members of Congress because of objections from the Foreign Ministry. They did so because at the end of the day, it is security forces that will most directly have to pay the price if Kassams armed with smuggled explosive material - or even worse, Katyushas brought in through the tunnels - spur what may be a costly IDF invasion of Gaza. The dispute over how that videotape should be presented, as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak's quick visit to Sharm e-Sheikh on Wednesday to publicly smooth over issues with Mubarak, is a sign that Jerusalem is also suffering from its own case of tunnel vision. This episode points to a growing disconnect between a security establishment tasked with protecting Israeli communities along Gaza, and the broader diplomatic aims of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in which Egyptian support plays an integral role. Although some of this tension may be natural given the current situation, it is the responsibility of the Olmert government to forge a coherent diplomatic and security approach to the Gaza/Hamas situation, one better integrated within their declared policy goal of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians by next year's end. Instead, Olmert and Livni seem content right now to move forward day by day, with the occasional stumble, along a dark tunnel in which only they (and maybe US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) can see a light at the end - while the Egyptians can't even see the tunnel(s). [email protected]