Update from AIJAC
June 28, 2007
Number 06/07 #09
The Sharm el-Sheikh Summit on Tuesday, hosted by Egyptian President Mubarak, and including Israeli PM Olmert, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordan’s King Abdullah, is the subject of this Update. Olmert used the Summit to promise to attempt to turn the Hamas victory in Gaza into an “opportunity for peace” and also made a surprise announcement of plans to release 250 Fatah prisoners as part of measures designed to bolster Abbas in the West Bank. A useful summary of Israel’s promised steps to help support the new Palestinian government is available as a pdf here.
The Update leads with Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh’s description of what the summit was really about, which, he says, was an attempt to create an alliance against Hamas and its Iranian and Syrian backers. Abu Toameh cites numerous statements by Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders about what they are actually attempting to do. For this must-read discussion of what is really behind the summit, CLICK HERE.
Next up, American counter-terror expert Jonathan Schanzer argues that, despite Egypt’s role in the summit, it must not be forgotten that Cairo’s policies helped bring about the current situation by allowing arms smuggling, which in turn allowed the Hamas military takeover of CLICK HERE.
Finally, this Update offers a piece by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, who emphasises both the way events of the past few weeks caught everyone by surprise, and the difficulty of the policy of strengthening Fatah in the West Bank, of which the Sharm summit is one part. He says the US and Israel need to start talking about a “plan B” if this strategy cannot be made to work, given the real obstacles. For this view, CLICK HERE.
Khaled Abu Toameh
THE JERUSALEM POST, Jun. 26, 2007
The four leaders who met at this Red Sea resort on Monday all have one common enemy: Hamas.
The summit was called to discuss the repercussions of Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip and ways of boosting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. But it was also seen by many here as an attempt to establish a new alliance against the Iranian-backed Islamic movement.
However, Hamas managed to steal the show by releasing the audiotape of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit shortly before the four leaders arrived.
“This was not a coincidence,” said a member of the Palestinian delegation. “This is a ploy by Hamas to divert attention from the summit and embarrass the leaders, especially President Abbas.”
The dozens of journalists who flocked to Sharm e-Sheikh to cover the summit were clearly more interested in the Schalit tape than anything else.
Abbas, according to another delegation member, is still worried that Hamas will try to undermine his power in the West Bank.
“That’s why we need money and weapons,” the Palestinian official said. “If we don’t receive enough backing, we will lose the West Bank.”
According to the official, Hamas has been trying over the past few months to establish a security force in the West Bank similar to its paramilitary “Executive Force” that played a major role in toppling the Fatah regime in the Gaza Strip. He said the PA security forces in the West Bank have detained more than 100 Hamas members who were involved in the attempt to create the new force.
“We came to this summit to seek the backing of our Arab brothers in our efforts to crush Hamas,” the official added. “What happened in the Gaza Strip could undermine the regimes of King Abdullah and President Hosni Mubarak. Hamas poses a problem not only to Fatah, but to the moderate Arab regimes.”
He said Israel was also required to make far-reaching measures and gestures to bolster Abbas and Fatah, such as releasing a large number of Fatah prisoners, removing IDF checkpoints and releasing frozen tax revenues.
At the summit, Mubarak and Abdullah told Abbas that they considered the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip a “major threat” to their national security.
The two leaders came to Sharm e-Sheikh to see what could be done to help Abbas prevent a similar “coup” in the West Bank, said an Egyptian government official.
“Cairo and Amman are very worried about the recent developments in Palestine,” he explained. “The Hamas victory could embolden radical Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida, which have long been seeking to overthrow the governments in Egypt and Jordan.”
Egyptian and Jordanian journalists covering the summit said Mubarak and Abdullah were already under attack from the opposition in their countries for coming out against Hamas in such a strong manner. The opposition, one of them added, did not like the fact that Egypt and Jordan were openly backing Fatah.
The journalists said that their governments were not afraid of Hamas as much as they were afraid of Iran, which had been accused by Fatah and intelligence officials in Egypt and Jordan of backing the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.
“It’s widely believed that the Iranians were behind the Hamas coup,” said a Jordanian newspaper correspondent. “Iran has been playing a negative role in the region by supporting radical groups like Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad. Our government is convinced that Iran is trying to overthrow pro-Western regimes in the Arab world.”
Similarly, the Egyptian authorities are worried by what they perceive as an Iranian scheme to “establish Islamic republics in the Middle East.” An Egyptian journalist said Mubarak was “furious” when he heard that Hamas militiamen had received training in Iran and other Islamic countries.
“The Iranians are playing a dangerous game,” he cautioned. “This summit is clearly intended to find ways to thwart Iran’s conspiracy.”
Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, said Monday’s summit was part of an unprecedented effort to create an Israeli-Arab alliance against Hamas. He said the new alliance was the first step toward confronting the bigger threat: Iran and its major Arab ally, Syria.
“Under the pretext of facing the Hamas coup, the summit is seeking to establish a new strategy based on supplying Abbas and his aides with money and weapons to turn the West Bank into a ‘green zone,'” he said. “On the other hand, the leaders who met in Sharm e-Sheikh want to turn the Gaza Strip into another Fallujah or Inbar by starving its people and isolating them politically.”
Atwan described the Sharm e-Sheikh gathering as a “summit of leaders who are panicking after Hamas’s bloody victory in the Gaza Strip and who are trying to salvage their seats.”
He said it would have been better for the Arabs had they held their own summit to discuss ways of resolving the Hamas-Fatah crisis. He also lashed out at Abbas for choosing to sit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instead of going to meet with the Hamas leaders to end the crisis.
What remains to be seen is whether the new alliance will succeed in attracting new Arab parties.
By: Jonathan Schanzer
The Bulletin (Philadelphia), 06/26/2007
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hosted Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday in an attempt to shore up beleaguered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to jumpstart peace talks between Israel and the Fatah government that clings to power in the West Bank.
Egypt’s move, lauded by Washington, is also an attempt to isolate the violent Hamas terrorist organization, one week after its takeover of the Gaza Strip. This gives the appearance that Egypt is a leading voice of moderation in the region and a pivotal U.S. ally in the war against radical Islam in the region.
But Egypt is largely to blame for the current Gaza crisis, the arming of Hamas and the deaths of hundreds of people, Israelis and Palestinians alike.
For years, Cairo has turned a blind eye to Hamas’ weapon smuggling activities on the Gaza-Sinai border in an area known as the Philadelphi Corridor. Hamas has amassed a deadly arsenal by importing copious amounts of weapons through tunnels that run from Egypt into Gaza.
Cairo yawned when this arsenal spilled the blood of hundreds of Israelis in recent years. This was Egypt’s conception of “Cold Peace” with Israel. Mubarak lent half-hearted rhetorical support to Arab-Israeli peace while allowing Sudanese, Libyan and Egyptian weapons to travel underground to terrorists. Egypt continued to take aid from the United States (more than $28 billion over three decades) while simultaneously and indirectly inflicting pain upon Israel.
Now, Mubarak is suddenly alarmed by the fact that Hamas used these weapons to kill dozens of Palestinians, that the region is ablaze and that a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Islamist proto-state now sits on its border.
Over the last decade, Israel has found and destroyed dozens of tunnels that originated in Egypt and led right into Gaza. Israel’s Engineer Corps destroyed them with explosives or filled them with cement. But Gaza’s tunnels are built as fast as they are found, thanks to financing from the mullahs of Iran.
According to one estimate, Gazans smuggled no less than 30 tons of explosives from Egypt in 2006. The goods typically include automatic rifles, mines, armor-piercing weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and even the explosives used in suicide belts. Also coming through are the raw materials necessary to build the increasingly accurate Qassam rockets that pummel the southern Israeli town of Sderot on a daily basis.
The interrogation of one militant in 2003 revealed to Israeli intelligence that anti-aircraft missiles had been smuggled through these tunnels to counter Israeli attack helicopters, or even to target commercial airliners. Recently, Israeli officials have expressed concerns that long-range missiles may have made their way to Gaza, too.
Israel repeatedly pleaded with their “peace partner,” Egypt, to do more to stop the smuggling in recent years. Cairo responded with complaints that it needed more policemen to deploy along the border. This response was curious, coming from a police state.
True, Egyptian policemen occasionally destroyed tunnels. But, their efforts were well shy of rigorous. According to Israeli officials, in some cases, Egyptian police received “bribes or other incentives for keeping the tunnels open.” When Israel destroyed tunnels with explosives, they witnessed smoke and debris clouds coming out of tunnel entrances in areas that were well within the patrol areas of Egypt’s border guards.
Cairo traditionally dismissed these allegations as “old and silly” but now appears to be properly alarmed. Egypt heightened its alert
level along the Philadelphi corridor in the wake of the Hamas victory. Mubarak reportedly upped the number of police on the border to 750.
Egypt could take further measures, in light of a U.S. House of Representatives vote on Friday to withhold $200 million in military aid until Cairo shows it is serious about stopping the smuggling.
Regardless of how many Egyptian police are now deployed to the border, there can be no masking the fact that Egypt was responsible, in part, for the arming of Hamas. It was therefore responsible, in part, for the Hamas takeover in Gaza.
Mubarak’s peace summit in Sharm el-Sheikh is a fig leaf, designed to obscure the fact that he allowed Hamas to arm.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury intelligence analyst, is director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center. He is author of Al-Qaeda’s Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror.
The Bush administration needs a backup plan for dealing with Hamas.
by Efraim Halevy
The New Republic Online | Post date 06.22.07
The handwriting was on the wall; everybody knew that there would be a showdown between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip; everybody knew that Hamas was the overriding force in that territory. In the Middle East where the “Mu’ahmara,” the conspiracy, has been the leitmotif behind every catastrophe, the man in the street knew that the Americans and Israelis had been conspiring with Fatah, that Hamas had been conspiring with the Syrians and Iranians, and that the Saudis were toiling to get things on track and to move the entire region in the direction of moderation. But now, a week after the events that culminated in the takeover of the Strip by Hamas, people are just now overcoming their surprise.
First Hamas. They did not expect to win the elections a year and a half ago, they did not expect that Fatah would agree to go hand in hand with them into a national unity government. They did not expect the United States to confront them and invest so heavily in a Fatah anti-Hamas force. And they did not expect Fatah’s American-trained and logistically supported force to fold like a pack of cards with its commanders fleeing the scene and leaving their men to face a cruel and savage fate. They rejoiced in this major American setback, but they certainly did not expect it to assume such proportions. They did not expect Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to turn his back on them and virtually excommunicate them from Palestinian society. After their triumph last week they tried to assert their authority, and none other than Hamas leader Khaled Mashal ordered the release of kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston by nightfall on June 19. The captors defied him and simply ignored him. Hamas did not expect that either. This could become the harbinger of a bitter awakening.
And Fatah. They did not expect all of that and more. They did not foresee a real “Fitna”–a civil war in Gaza. They did not think they would have to decide whether to go it alone in the West Bank, where they have a preponderance of power vis-a-vis Hamas but are still unable to assert themselves and prevent terrorist plots on their own. Abbas did not expect to be propelled into a position where he would be perceived as one whose prime minister was chosen in Washington. Salaam Fayad did not expect that he, a decent and respected economist, would be anointed prime minister, finance minister, and foreign minister heading a technocratic cabinet charged with a gigantic task of confronting a separated Gaza , receiving massive Israeli and international aid, and burdened with the mission of leading another fighting force designed to uproot terrorism in the Palestinian territories. Can the Abbas-Fayad team do what has never been done before?
Neither did the U.S. government nor the Israeli government expect this rapid chain of events. Next week yet another regional summit attended by the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority will go through the now traditionally Washington-scripted ritual. Abbas will be lauded for his courage and determination to tough it out, Israel will release hundreds of millions of frozen Palestinian assets, and the United States and Europe will come forward with attractive economic and other schemes to improve the quality of life of the Palestinians.
After the festivities, however, will come the morning after; there will be tough decisions to make. Will the American supported government in Ramallah abandon the million and a half Gazans to their fate as they distribute aid in the West Bank? Will the new Government start confronting terrorism on the West Bank? Can it do the job? Will it see this through? Will Hamas, isolated and abandoned, simply sit it out and accept this new status quo peacefully? Should we all not only prepare but also promote a final, crucial, military confrontation with Hamas? Is the policy of dividing not only the current governance of the Palestinians but also their ultimate destiny a viable policy? Before discussing the outlines of a permanent solution to the age-long dispute there are so many urgent issues at hand that demand immediate attention.
Hamas is seeking a cease-fire with Israel in both in Gaza and in the West Bank and this Israel cannot and should not grant, because it would allow the inferior Hamas groups there to reorganize after suffering a severe beating. So what will we “do” with Gaza? What will Abbas “do” with Gaza? How long can the present fragile stand-off last?
I hope that before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left Washington this week, he agreed with President Bush that a Plan B team be appointed to design an alternative to the newly furbished policy on the Palestinian issue, lest it go the way of its failed predecessors.
Efraim Halevy is head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the author of Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man Who Led the Mossad