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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Two scenarios for Egypt: one scary, one hopeful

Harold's List

Chicago Sun-Times
September 26, 2005

Israel withdrew from Gaza not in hopes of energizing some nonexistent "peace process," but precisely because there can be no peace -- and indeed no process -- with existing Palestinian leadership. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas eschews obligations to disarm terrorists. Gaza's descent into chaos was predictable. Torching vacated synagogues is emblematic. That these were places where Jews prayed drove Palestinian looters to frenzy. Greenhouses, purchased by philanthropists to provide employment, were looted by people for whom tomorrow is an alien concept. Murder is so routine in Gaza that the killing of three American diplomats two years ago is forgotten.

With no hope of Palestinian security control in Gaza, attention turns to Egypt on the southern border, where subterranean tunnels were utilized to smuggle arms. What will Egypt do? There are two scenarios, one menacing, the other, hopeful.

Some believe Egypt and Palestinians will unite against Israel. Egyptians would return to their pre-1967 line in northern Gaza, 6 miles from Israel's port/energy center in Ashkelon. This squares with longstanding concerns about Egyptian intentions. In 2001, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs noted: "The U.S. has transformed the Egyptian military into a modern force with F-16D jet fighters, M1A1 tanks with depleted uranium rounds, frigates, air-defense radars, and plans for Multiple Launch Rocket System."

In 2004, JINSA called attention to Egyptian-Libyan collaboration on long-range missiles and nuclear technology, with links to Pakistan and North Korea. These are unnecessary for security against neighbors Libya and Sudan, but are essential to attack another country. While Egypt amasses its arsenal, it is threatened by domestic unrest emanating from Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship. We hope Egypt's government changes through evolution. Egypt needs economic, not military, assistance. Domestic instability could tempt Mubarak into diversionary war against foreign "enemies."

The alternative is that Egypt's fear of revolution makes it Israel's ally on Gaza. The military capability Egypt has amassed, plus the Palestinian cult of suicide bombings, makes this a serious concern. Egypt's need for evolutionary regime change is shared by the United States and Israel; it is inimical to Palestinian radicals. Mubarak's goal, like every despot, is to retain power and hand the presidency to his son like a pharaoh. His nightmare is violent overthrow with revenge of the masses. He recalls the fate of Anwar Sadat. The best-organized opposition to Mubarak's dictatorship is the Muslim Brotherhood, linked to radical organizations, including al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad. The Brotherhood commands support in Egypt. A leading sheikh says suicide bombings in Israel are not contrary to Islam.

Egypt abetted smuggling of arms into Gaza, but that was when Mubarak thought Israel was the target. Now he must be concerned that Egypt will be the target. Mubarak has to worry about Gaza as a center of Islamic terrorism targeting Cairo. An influx of radical Palestinians with allies into Egypt would strengthen the Brotherhood that Mubarak has brutally suppressed. Mubarak knows Egypt's expulsion of radical Islamists exported terrorism.

Early indications are that Palestinians will not cooperate with Egypt. The first days of Palestinian/Egyptian "cooperation" resulted in thousands of Palestinians flooding Egyptian territory and waves of arms flooding Gaza. Mubarak is furious and declares the border will be closed. But Mahmoud Abbas has all but given up his feeble efforts to "co-opt" Hamas and Islamic Jihad into a "political" process; both organizations vow to continue terrorism.

Winston Churchill defined appeasement as "feeding the alligator in hopes it will eat you last." Egypt and Arab states have been feeding the alligator in Gaza. The chickens are coming home to roost -- to mix metaphors wildly. If Egyptians cannot control the border, the spillover will inflict terrorism on them, escalating repression from Mubarak.

Gaza tests Palestinians' readiness for statehood. American diplomacy must begin by requiring that Egypt and Palestinians meet security commitments. This suits Mubarak's interests. The United States should encourage increased openings for free press, political parties and genuine elections to meet political aspirations of Egyptians. Only this combination will meet Egypt's need for evolutionary change and the region's need for peace.

Joel J. Sprayregen is a board member and Shoshana Bryen is director of special projects, of JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs).
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