Rattling the Cage: The folly of Egypt-bashing

To see Cairo as being allied with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in its war on Israel is totally ridiculous.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Given the mood in Israel toward Arabs, there's an increasingly popular explanation here for Egypt's failure to stop the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza: Egypt just wants to get as many Israelis killed as possible. "Egypt's real policy is to arm the Palestinians against Israel and let us both bleed together," said MK Yuval Steinitz, leader of the anti-Egypt campaign here and in Washington, to Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday. "For Egypt it's preferable that Israel bleeds, preferable that the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict continues, preferable that Israel is forced to take military actions that result in international condemnation," wrote Giora Eiland, former head of Israel's National Security Council, in Yediot yesterday. While evil Egyptian intent explains the weapons smuggling to Israelis and pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington, I don't think it makes sense. It isn't consistent with the overall performance of Egyptian troops on the Philadelphi Corridor, the border between Egypt and Gaza where the smuggling takes place. It doesn't square with President Hosni Mubarak's posture toward Israel and the US. Above all, the idea that Mubarak is effectively in cahoots with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza contradicts his main interest - to keep violent Islamic groups from overthrowing his regime. But since no one in Israel or the Israel lobby wants to be accused of defending the Arabs, or of being soft on terror, or of being naive, the argument that Mubarak is really our mortal enemy wins the day. It's a very unhealthy attitude, though, and it's based on an awfully selective, biased reading of Egyptian behavior. Myself, I'm not sure what, precisely, is behind the Egyptian border guards' handling of the Philadelphi Corridor. The results have been so mixed that I suspect there's no one single, consistent explanation. On the one hand, the volume of weapons being smuggled now is many, many times greater than it was when the IDF was in Gaza. Not only is there plenty of evidence of Egyptian troops doing nothing to stop the tunneling of weapons from Egyptian Beduin smugglers to Gaza Palestinian terrorists, there is evidence that some of those troops are actively aiding the process. But there is another side to the story. Since disengagement, Egyptian troops on the Philadelphi Corridor have been killed in clashes with Palestinians. And for all the failures, deliberate or not, to stop weapons smuggling, there have also been many successes, which could only have been deliberate. They're being reported continually - there was the Egyptians' capture of nearly two tons of explosives near the Gaza border yesterday, a half-ton of explosives in Sinai last month, 1.5 tons a few months before. But Israelis in general don't retain positive information about Arabs, only negative. The Egyptians said last month, according to The Jerusalem Post, that they've intercepted 23 tons of explosives, 30 guns, 50 grenade launchers and 300,000 bullets headed for Gaza. Mubarak told Olmert in June that his border guards had shut down 136 tunnels. I wouldn't be surprised if those numbers are exaggerated, but there's no reason to believe they're entirely made up - unless, of course, you believe that anything an Arab says in defense against Israeli accusations is entirely made up. To anyone else, it should be clear that Egypt has captured way too much weaponry intended for Palestinian terrorists to be on the terrorists' side. If that's not convincing enough, think of the Egyptian soldiers killed by Palestinians on the Gazan border. BUT THEN what's the explanation for the scores of tons of weaponry that get through the tunnels, much of the time with tacit Egyptian cooperation, some of the time with active Egyptian partnership? My guess is that bribery of Egyptian border guards by Beduin smugglers and Palestinian terrorists explains part of it. The pro-Palestinian or pro-Islamic sentiment of Egyptian soldiers may explain another part. The difficulty of the task, remembering that a few tons of weaponry and explosives were smuggled past the IDF into Gaza before disengagement, may be another reason. Disorganization and incompetency in the Egyptian border detail may be yet another. And yes, Mubarak's political calculations - his fear of being accused by his very popular, very lethal Islamist opposition of being an Israeli lackey - may also come into play. But to see Egypt as being allied with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in its war on Israel is totally ridiculous. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the same kinds of Muslim terrorist groups that tried to assassinate Mubarak, that did assassinate members of his government along with his predecessor Anwar Sadat, that blew up tourist sites across Egypt, and that Mubarak's forces have been imprisoning, torturing and killing for many years. When it comes to getting tough on the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, I don't think Israelis or even AIPAC members have much to teach Egypt's leader. Meanwhile, the Egyptians have been negotiating on our behalf to free Gilad Schalit. They've been negotiating on our behalf to get Hamas to agree to a cease-fire. Mubarak, more than anyone else, kept the intifada from becoming a pan-Arab war against Israel. These are not the actions of an Arab leader who seeks our blood, who wants to throw us into the sea. MOREOVER, on the matter of weapons smuggling into Gaza, the Egyptians have asked Israel repeatedly to let them increase their 1,500 or so troops on the Philadelphi Corridor by another few thousand. They say they need more men to do the job, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly supports their request. Israel, however, says no. The problem, say Israeli officials, is not the Egyptian troops' number but their intent. They have enough soldiers to stop the weapons smuggling into Gaza if they only want to, say Israeli officials, who repeated it yesterday while accompanying Defense Minister Ehud Barak to his meeting with Mubarak. My question is this: Why won't Israel say yes? Why not put Egypt to the test by letting it beef up its border detail on the Philadelphi Corridor? The Egyptians have stopped a lot of weaponry from getting to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, maybe they can stop more. And what does Israel have to lose? Are a couple of thousand Egyptian border guards going to march on Ashkelon? What's the danger? If the Olmert government is serious about stopping the arms buildup in Gaza, it has no good reason to deny Egypt's request. By agreeing, the only thing Israel has to lose is its conviction that all Arabs are enemies, which is well worth losing.