Friday, August 10, 2012

Arlene Kushner On The Realities Behind Egypt After Sinai Attack

From Arlene Kushner
August 10, 2012

In Brief

Brief, because preparations for Shabbat call...
I'll start with the good news that is so appropriate before Shabbat: An update on Noam Jay ben Inbar, for whom some of you have been praying. 
This is the boy of nine with cancer growing around his heart, who was thought to be terminal but is now receiving an experimental drug.  The family was thrilled this week, because he came home from the hospital for Shabbat, as he has before, but was coping so well he was allowed to stay home until Tuesday.  There is definite improvement in his condition.  Please God, let it continue.   (If you would like to make a donation to help with the expense of the experimental drug, let me know.)
Yesterday, the Security Cabinet approved the deployment of five attack helicopters in the Sinai, in accordance with a request from Defense Minister Barak.
As to the Egyptian military taking out terrorists, Barak said, they are acting "to an extent and with a determination that I cannot previously recall."  Although, of course, it's not over yet, this is good news for Israel.  What must be seen in coming days is a sustained effort on the part of Egypt, rather than a short-term flurry of activity for the sake of revenge or public relations.
It would be difficult for Israel to demand that Egypt gain control of the region if they were not permitted the equipment they need.  And, I have to assume, denying the Egyptian the means to act against terrorists that also threaten them would be severely detrimental to an already shaky Israeli-Egyptian  relationship.
There is great unease here with regard to allowing such equipment into the "demilitarized" Sinai -- don't imagine otherwise.  What I'm seeing, however, is that the concern about a "mega-attack" from jihadist terrorists trumps this unease.  Had the terrorists succeed on Sunday evening, it would have been a national horror.  And the prospects of this happening -- if there is no concerted effort on the part of the Egyptian military -- far outweigh the prospects of an attack on Israel now by the Egyptian military. 
Egyptian President Muhammed Morsi has now fired his intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi.  Muwafi -- who was responsible for maintaining relations with Israel -- had failed to act on intelligence Israel had supplied prior to Sunday's attack. 
The urgency Morsi felt to act has nothing to do with the fact that the terrorists were intent on murder in Israel on a large scale -- this is about the murder of Egyptian soldiers. 
The Egyptian public is greatly agitated that this happened.  During the funeral for the slain Egyptian soldiers on Tuesday, relatives threw shoes at newly-appointed Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, while shouting,  "You killed them, you dogs." Other people in the crowd carried signs that read, "Our condolences to the Egyptians, but not to the dogs of the Muslim Brotherhood and their President." Wisely, Morsi had decided not to attend the funerals.
All of this feeds the speculation in some quarters that the military action now in the Sinai may be intended to assuage public anger and little more.
What it also tells us is that the Brotherhood is not in a good place in Egypt right now, with public sentiment apparently with the military.
A report made the news yesterday indicating that Saudi Arabia has said it would shoot down any Israeli planes in its airspace that were on their way to an attack on Iran.  Allegedly this information was delivered by US officials visiting here -- this was not a direct message from the Saudis.
YNet cited senior Israeli officials who said that "the Americans are leveraging the Saudi threat in an attempt to dissuade Israel from launching a unilateral offensive on Iran's nuclear facilities."
That would be my take, because I know that the Saudis greatly fear the prospect of a nuclear Iran and, while unwilling to go public with support for Israel, would not be unhappy if Israel did the job that needs to be done.  It has been my understanding that the Saudis would simply look away.  And so, I was fairly astonished and wondered what the dynamic was -- what the US was holding over Saudi Arabia.
Responding to these news reports, Barak then denied that Israel has received any such message from the US.  Speaking on Israel Radio, he said:
"We should not react or respond to these reports. The issue of attacking Iran is too important to let a report like this decide in which direction it goes.
"Saudi Arabia is a sovereign state that is permitted to act based on its own understanding."
A whole lot of ambiguity in this statement.  "Saudi Arabia is a sovereign state..."  Meaning, perhaps that they do not have to proceed according to the will of the US?  That the US should give up on trying to manipulate the situation? There's a great deal we don't know here.
Barak's insistence on proceeding is as it should be.  He indicated, in fact, that the latest intelligence makes it all the more important that Iran be confronted.
And then there's the response of  Bahrain to an article that Israel's Ambassador to the US Michael Oren wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, in which he said that sanctions are not working and time is running out.  
I wrote about this earlier this week.  Oren's article: Time Is Short For Iran Diplomacy
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa tweeted a link to this, which is fairly remarkable.  A strong indication of where the Gulf States stand with regard to Iran, this suggests that the Saudis would indeed not want to take down Israeli planes.
From the time of the horrendous attack in Bourgas, Bulgaria, which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver, PM Netanyahu has been saying that this was the work of Iran, via its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Things have been quiet for a while -- with little progress reported on identifying the perpetrator(s) of the terror attack. 
Now, according to the NYTimes, "Israeli intelligence has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Bourgas in the two months before the bombing, according to a senior government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified, with the volume intensifying in the three days leading up to it." 
To reveal what is known is to expose sources in the field, and so this is a sensitive investigation.  But the link seems clear.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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