Mideast erupts: U.S.-Egypt spe­cial ties at risk

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

If you threw a dart at a map of the Mid­dle East and North Africa, you al­most couldn’t miss hit­ting a spot where a his­toric event was un­fold­ing. In the head­lines of just Satur­day and Sun­day — nor­mally slow news days — one could read of Syrian tanks slaugh­ter­ing the re­bel­lious civil­ians of Deraa; NATO bombs killing a son and grand­chil­dren of Libyan dic­ta­tor Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi, with the United Na­tions pulling out its staff from Tripoli as a re­sult; 80 per­cent of Jor­dan’s gas sup­ply be­ing taken off-line by sab­o­tage; the Tal­iban start­ing its spring mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in Afghanistan; Pres­i­dent Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh of Ye­men re­fus­ing to sign a tran­si­tion deal in­volv­ing his re­moval from power, threat­en­ing to de­rail ef­forts by the Gulf states to con­trol months of un­rest in that key U.S. ally.

The Wash­ing­ton Post head­lined the ques­tion, “Will Pak­istan erupt like Egypt?”

Or per­haps you saw the head­line that Ha­mas leader Khaled Mashaal ar­rived in Cairo for talks with Egyp­tian of­fi­cials on the unity deal be­tween Ha­mas and Fatah, where Ha­mas of­fi­cials re­it­er­ated their re­fusal to rec­og­nize Is­rael’s right to ex­ist. Or per­haps you didn’t.

With so much go­ing on si­mul­ta­ne­ously, nei­ther the world’s states­men nor the lead­ing ed­i­tors of world­wide jour­nal­ism can agree upon what to fo­cus the world’s lim­ited at­ten­tion. This pro­vides the world’s ne­far­i­ous lead­ers with a golden op­por­tu­nity for the for­eign pol­icy equiv­a­lent of get­ting away with mur­der in broad day­light.

It brings to mind the ob­ser­va­tion in 1864 of Europe’s most bril­liant diplo­mat, Prus­sian Chan­cel­lor Prince Otto von Bis­marck, who said the prac­tice of diplo­macy “teaches that one can be as shrewd as the shrewdest in this world and still at any mo­ment go like a child into the dark.”

The re­cent news that the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment has bro­kered an agree­ment be­tween the main Pales­tinian fac­tions — Gaza-based ter­ror­ist Ha­mas and Fatah’s West Bank-based Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity (PA) — should be shed­ding more light in the United States than it so far has on the dark­ness that is cur­rent Mid­dle East events.

The United States iden­ti­fies Ha­mas as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

With Ha­mas in­cluded in the PA regime, al­most a bil­lion dol­lars in yearly U.S aid pre­sum­ably will have to be cut off — and should be.

Al­ready Is­rael has cut off its pro­rated $80 mil­lion an­nual con­tri­bu­tion.

Also, al­ready, Egyp­tian For­eign Min­is­ter Na­bil Al-Arabi has said that the crit­i­cal Rafah cross­ing from Egypt into Gaza will be opened per­ma­nently, mark­ing the big­gest breach in the Gaza block­ade, which was im­posed by Is­rael and backed by the West, since 2007.

This fact alone ought to be seen as a storm warn­ing.

An ever more highly armed Gaza Strip makes Pales­tini­anIs­raeli mil­i­tary en­gage­ment more likely.

The re­duced eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity that the loss of West­ern money to the West Bank is likely to cause may in­crease un­rest and un­der­mine the re­cently re­duced corruption there.

But the greater sig­nif­i­cance of these events rests in what they may tell us about the na­ture of Egypt’s post-Hosni Mubarak for­eign pol­icy.

It sug­gests that Cairo is feel­ing tremen­dous urg­ing from broad Arab sen­ti­ment to re­turn, af­ter 30 years, to its tra­di­tional Mid­dle East­ern for­eign poli­cies as a lead­ing Arab nation rather than as the ally of the United States and Is­rael.

It cer­tainly has been an his­tor­i­cally odd fact that with Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia al­lied with the United States and fol­low­ing our lead on pol­icy, the struc­ture of Mid­dle East pol­icy has been driven by non-Arabs — the United States, Tur­key, Iran and Is­rael.

While this has worked pow­er­fully to our ad­van­tage (ex­cept for Iran’s role) those days may be end­ing.

Tur­key has been slip­ping away — first slowly, now faster — from an Amer­i­can al­liance since 2003.

Saudi Ara­bia — ap­palled by our un­der­cut­ting of Mr. Mubarak — is be­gin­ning to forge its own path, as ev­i­denced by its un­prece­dented de­ci­sion to cut rather than ex­pand oil pump­ing dur­ing this cur­rent oil price rise.

Now Egypt ex­pe­dites the pro­mo­tion of ter­ror­ist Ha­mas into Pales­tinian lead­er­ship and wan­tonly pre­pares to per­mit the rearm­ing of the Gaza Strip. The ob­vi­ous tar­get: Is­rael. It is re­ported that the Egyp­tian-bro­kered deal was a “sur­prise” to the world.

Can it re­ally be the case that the United States, with our wel­learned close­ness to the Egyp­tian army, which cur­rently gov­erns Egypt, was gen­uinely un­aware of this shock­ing de­vel­op­ment?

Or did we know and not try to stop it?

Or did we know and try but fail to stop it?

Congress — both the Demo­cratic Se­nate and the GOP House (this is be­yond par­ti­san pol­i­tics) — should promptly hold hear­ings on this re­ver­sal of long-term Amer­i­can in­ter­ests.

Who dropped the ball: State, De­fense, the CIA or the White House?

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury” (Reg­n­ery, 2009) and vice pres­i­dent of the Edel­man pub­lic re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton.

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