ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Egyptian Crossroads: To Crush All Terrorism or Not? 10.10.04

Egyptian Crossroads: To Crush All Terrorism or Not?

10 October 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

After Thursday night’s Sinai terror attacks by Islamic extremists, Israeli government officials, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and PM Ariel Sharon are praising Egyptian cooperation with Israel in the rescue efforts, especially those at the Taba Hilton. IDF officers have made sure to do the same as Home Front rescue teams were rushed to the Eilat crossing at Taba in an effort to save as many lives as possible. In the end, the Hebrew daily Haaretz reported 32 dead and among them 13 Israelis.

Furthermore Israeli officialdom is discussing the need for a joint front with Egypt to battle terrorism. Now, many claim a possible “turning point” has been reached whereby Egypt will come to the necessary conclusion that security cooperation with Israel is imperative. News commentators are almost gleeful in their analysis of an upcoming Egyptian shift in policy to anti-terror activism. (It is interesting to note, however, that Egyptian President Mubarak has not mentioned one word concerning the attacks.)

This week’s cooperation was far from smooth. For hours the Egyptians denied any terror attack took place and when Israeli firemen were not allowed across the border as passports were demanded, 30 critical minutes were wasted. Later IDF search and rescue teams were delayed another two hours at the border until Defense Minister Mofaz was able to gain approval to let them cross from his Egyptian counterpart, Hussein Tantawi. Both events apparently led to quite a few deaths, as evidenced by the small number of critically wounded. Had rescue units been allowed in immediately, many of those seriously wounded would have lived.

Blame is being thrown at Egypt’s Third World bureaucracy, explaining, that even when orders are given, execution is long in coming. But the whole problem should only be so innocent, so technical. Soon after the attacks, Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on extreme Islamic factions, explained to the Al – Arabiah news medium that Israel had “the most to gain” from the attacks and therefore was behind the massacre. Egyptian police were reported to have stolen items from the dead and wounded. Worst yet, certain Egyptian “rescuers” announced their willingness to kill Israelis, if only the need should arise (Ma’ariv, Oct. 8 and 10).

The gap between official Egypt and the street is enormous. Pro-western, secular President Mubarak & Co. must play the peace game since it is in their interests. From the reign of King Farouk in the 1940’s, through Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s secular regimes have battled Islamic terrorism quite successfully. All understood the existential threat.

Yet they need not play the peace card fully. Palestinian terrorism does not particularly bother them and tunneling arms, ammunition and terrorists under the border from Sinai into the Gaza Strip was largely ignored until Israel’s massive operations in the Rafiah area this past spring. Supposedly they would act to curb Palestinian arms smuggling. Few results of any Egyptian actions are visible. Somehow, they thought they could separate terrorism directed against Israel from the Islamic brand, which threatens Israel, the west and secular Moslem regimes such as their own.

This morning the Arab press is reporting confessions by Sinai beduin operatives who sold explosives to the terrorists. The beduin thought the explosives were to be shipped by tunnel to Gaza. The average Egyptian has no problem with such actions. As for Mubarak and the power elite, their policy has been to turn a blind eye to those supplying Palestinian terrorists with weaponry.

Sinai is apparently infiltrated with terrorists of all stripes – including the Palestinian Hamas/Jihad/Fatah, the Lebanese Hizbollah and international Islamicists, including Al-Qaeda. Could anyone think they would not work together?

Sinai is evolving into the new south Lebanon, a world terrorist land base. They Egyptians are fully responsible for letting it happen. They thought to sort out the good “freedom fighter” types (Palestinian) from the real “terrorists” (Islamic). Now faced with resounding failure, Cairo must decide whether to battle all terrorism or to continue limping on with a policy doomed to failure.

At the moment the Egyptians are cooperating with Israel but the overall battle against terrorism means closing down the Rafiah tunnels into Gaza no less than destroying other terrorist operations originating from Sinai. Any action other than a full-scale war against all terrorism will just be a continuation of Egypt’s failed two-faced policies.