Analysis: Egypt's hard choices on the Rafah debacle

Goodwill, better Cairo-Jerusalem cooperation could have prevented this.

Rafah fed up 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Rafah fed up 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
These are troubled times for Egypt. Putting a brave face on an impossible situation, President Hosni Mubarak proclaimed he was letting his Palestinian brethren into Sinai so they could buy all they needed. However, he is deeply worried and has issued strict orders to his security services: The stream of people coming into Egypt must be closely monitored, and must on no account be allowed to reach the mainland and cross the Suez Canal. Hamas terrorists must be prevented at all costs from making contact with Sinai Beduins hostile to the regime and encouraging them to act against tourists - especially Israeli tourists. They must also be prevented from crossing back into the Negev to carry out terror attacks. True, the Egyptian president has only himself to blame for the situation. He has not sealed his border as he pledged to do, and he has turned a blind eye to the weapons and terrorists fresh from Iranian training camps flowing into Gaza and strengthening Hamas to the extent that the organization felt it could flex its muscles and escalate the shelling of Sderot and Negev kibbutzim with better and bigger rockets. Goodwill and better cooperation between Egypt and Israel could have prevented this disastrous state of affairs, which led Israel to take the legitimate step of blockading Gaza in self-defense. This being said, Mubarak does have extenuating circumstances. In order to seal the Gaza border properly, he would have to order his people to use force to stop smuggling. Inevitably blood would be spilled, and he would be accused of killing Palestinians in order to protect Israel. This would lead to unanimous condemnation from the Arab world and possibly riots inside Egypt at the instigation of the Muslim Brotherhood. The rules of the game have now changed. The policy of containment of Hamas has failed. The wall is down, and the border will not be sealed again without bloodshed. Thousands of Palestinians, maybe more, are roaming the Sinai. Egypt has to find a way to drive them back, and devise an acceptable solution to reopen the Rafah crossing under suitable monitoring. What the Egyptians would like to do is broker a deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, but neither appears to be eager to cooperate. The PA would like to see a revival of the 2005 agreement that put it in charge of the Rafah checkpoint. Following a meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, the PA says it has Egyptian backing. On Tuesday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will meet his Egyptian counterpart; at the same time, two Hamas delegations - one from Gaza and one from Syria - are expected in Cairo and will insist on being part of the solution. At a meeting of Arab foreign ministers held in Cairo on Sunday, an interim resolution presented by Egypt was adopted. On the one hand, it puts all the blame on Israel, but on the other, it calls for a return to the previous state of affairs at the border. This is obviously not possible. It was accepted in order not to futher embarrass Egypt. However, it is painfully clear to all that a new arrangement will have to be found, hopefully leading to a reopening of the Rafah checkpoint under the control of the PA to ensure an orderly supply of all necessities to Gaza. Add to this mix the keen interest shown by Teheran, which dispatched its deputy foreign minister to Cairo to offer assistance, and the expected visit of Javier Solana to see what Europe can do to help; throw in Israel, which will not tolerate a solution that does not stop the flow of arms and explosives, and you will have an idea of the state of confusion in Egypt today. In fact, Mubarak even gave his blessing to a meeting between Abbas's representative and the banned Muslim Brotherhood. All the parties are only too aware that Israel might be tempted to reoccupy the Philadelphi Corridor and other parts of Gaza as a defensive measure to stop the massive flow of arms, should it continue. Such a move would destabilize the entire region and spell disaster for Egypt. Zvi Mazel is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt.