ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Understanding Abbas, Ignoring Mubarak 20.1.05

Understanding Abbas, Ignoring Mubarak

20 January 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

The Israeli government is playing what it considers to be its most pragmatic cards in dealing with the Gaza Kassam and rocket crisis. The Labor Party insists that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas be given a chance to prove he can halt these attacks by ordering the Palestinian security forces to patrol the launch zones in northern Gaza. There are also rumors of an emergent agreement with the Hamas and Abbas's own Fatah to observe a cease-fire.

From the other side, the Likud is playing the tough guy. PM Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have announced a plan for a major IDF offensive in Gaza should the rocket fire continue. The inaccurate, limited range Kassams are not the only problem. In a recent article in the Hebrew daily Yediot Achronot the unconfirmed reports of 20 kilometer range rockets having fallen into terrorist's hands was discussed publicly. These weapons were smuggled in through Sinai.

In the meantime Israel is allowing Abbas time to assert his authority. How much time and/or how many terror attacks before Israel reacts, is uncertain. National Religious Party Chairman Effi Eitam paints "the two-headed strategy" as "stupidity" and views Israel's Gaza policies as bordering on the chaotic. He believes this is no way to end terrorism and that Abbas needs no time to get organized after over four years of Palestinian violence.

The diplomatic policy is one of "either – or", meaning the Palestinians will reign in the terror or face the consequences of massive IDF action. Clearly Israel will judge Abbas on Palestinian actions and not intent. Furthermore, Europe and to a lesser degree, America, want to be sure Abbas is proven impotent before letting Sharon act. Despite Eitam's criticism, everyone understands the game.

What is once again being ignored is the Egyptian angle. Weapons arrive through tunnels passing from Sinai to Gaza. If President Mubarak gave the order, the tunnels would be shut down and the smugglers put on the run. This issue rose to the fore during the major IDF operation this past May (remember the house demolitions) and in the aftermath of the Taba bombings over Succot, only to be forgotten once again.

Mubarak is convinced that he and his pro-West power elite are the best deal the US, Europe and Israel can manage. Israel recently helped Egyptian industry penetrate US textile markets while continuing a policy of facilitating America aid to Cairo. At the moment there appears to be no serious reciprocity. Gaza remains that "booby-trapped hornet's nest sitting on a cesspool" and as long as it explodes in Israel's direction Mubarak cares not. Two faced, he allows for the arming of Palestinian terrorists and then demands they cease attacks against Israel.

The Egyptian president wants to remove Islamicist pressure from himself, therefore he lets it run wild across the border in Gaza at Israel's expense. Only the US and Europe can pressure Cairo, but that will only happen if the Islamicists are perceived as threatening western interests. So far that is not the case. Only when Al-Qaeda or others like them will be revealed as terror operatives in Sinai, will the West force Mubarak to act. But by then, it may be too late.