Egypt to warn Livni against Gaza op

Senior diplomatic officials say Mubarak plans to tell FM that massive military action would destabilize ME.

Mubarak 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mubarak 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is expected to warn Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni against a major military operation in Gaza when the two meet in Cairo on Thursday. Senior diplomatic officials said Tuesday that Mubarak's invitation to Livni was similar in motivation to the one Jordan's King Abdullah II extended to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak last month, to warn that massive military action in Gaza would destabilize the region. Beyond the personalities involved, another difference between the two meetings is that while Olmert and Barak traveled to Jordan clandestinely, the Livni-Mubarak meeting was announced well in advance. Livni is one of the main advocates inside the government for a harsher IDF response to the continual Kassam fire from the Gaza Strip. "The Egyptians were the brokers of the first agreement with Hamas, and they have a real interest in maintaining the 'quiet,'" one senior diplomatic official said. "They have an interest in quiet at almost any price." The reason, the official said, was a concern that fighting inside the Gaza Strip would lead to a rush on the Egyptian border, something that would leave Cairo with two bad options: open the border and have thousands of refuges pour into Sinai, or keep the border closed and face condemnation for callousness both from circles in Egypt and from the Arab world. The official had no firm explanation for why Mubarak had invited Livni, rather than Olmert or Barak, but dismissed the idea that Mubarak was trying to help Livni's election campaign, saying that few Israelis were looking to Mubarak for cues on how to vote. The official said, however, that the decision to invite Livni and not Barak may have stemmed from Egyptian fears that there might be an IDF operation in the days following the meeting. In that case, a meeting with the defense minister might be interpreted as collusion with the Israeli military. The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, had no response as to why Livni was going to Cairo to meet Mubarak, instead of Olmert. Explanations that Olmert was not invited because he was a lame duck prime minister seemed somewhat weak, considering that since resigning in September, he has been welcomed in Russia, the US, Britain and Turkey. According to Hossam Zaki, spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Livni was invited because she wanted to consult with Egyptian officials about the situation in Gaza. "She is a candidate for elections, and she has very declared views about Gaza and the Gaza situation in general, and we would like to examine this with her, see what her views are, explain to her our concerns and viewpoints as well," he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Egypt's main concern regarding Gaza is that Israel links its serious security situation to the serious humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said. "We want Israel to fulfill its responsibilities toward the occupied Gaza Strip and to differentiate between the humanitarian situation on the one side and the security situation on the other," Zaki said. Zaki declined to comment on why Olmert or Barak had not been invited. In addition to meeting with Mubarak, Livni should also have time to meet with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Zaki said. Regarding Egypt's efforts to renew the truce it brokered, Zaki said it could be done only if the political will existed on both sides. "If it's not present, then the job of brokering such a truce is very, very difficult, if not impossible," he said. "We don't think [the will] is as firm as it should be." Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said after a meeting with Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday that Egypt would push for a new truce between Hamas and Israel. Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), told the cabinet on Sunday that Egypt was not currently an effective broker in negotiations with Hamas because of a breakdown in trust between Egypt and the Islamist group.