Friday, April 10, 2009

Iran's prints are all over alleged Egypt terror ring

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

The official report from Cairo Thursday - that a Hezbollah terror ring was uncovered in Cairo and was planning hostile operations in Egypt - should be seen within the context of a greater conflict that does not necessarily involve Israel. To fight Iranian subversion in Egypt, Cairo is willing to help Israel prevent the arming of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The first reports of Hezbollah involvement in Sinai appeared in the international media a few months ago, citing collaboration between Hezbollah and Palestinians who left Gaza for Sinai via tunnels. They were assisted by Sinai Bedouin, according to reports from Egypt Thursday. The detainees reportedly include Israeli Arabs, possibly Negev Bedouin.

The Egyptians say they are concerned Hezbollah may try to attack tourist sites in Sinai and throughout Egypt.

Hezbollah is still seeking revenge for the assassination of its No. 2 Imad Mugniyeh 14 months ago. However, its goal is to undermine the Egyptian government.

As early as last year, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Iran had created an Islamic republic in Egypt's backyard, referring to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Such statements have recently become harsher, especially following the verbal attack by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Mubarak during Operation Cast Lead.

The government-affiliated Egyptian daily Al-Ahram Thursday reported that the recently exposed terror ring had planned assassinations, attacks on essential services and bombings.

Jordan, also viewed as central to what has been described as the Arab world's moderate Sunni axis, faced a similar effort by a Hamas terror network more than a year ago. In both cases, intelligence chiefs in Amman and Cairo realized that not only Palestinians and Lebanese were stirring the cauldron; so were Iranians.

Not for nothing did Mubarak boycott the Arab summit in Qatar two months ago, following Doha's decision to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Egyptian religious establishment is also concerned over the "defection" of thousands of young Sunnis for the Shi'ite denomination.

Ironically, Cairo is making its accusations against Iran just as the Obama administration is inviting dialogue. But Egypt cannot hold still. Cairo arrests dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members every month on terror suspicions. Since Hamas' final takeover of the Strip, Brotherhood and Hamas delegations visit each other every few weeks.

Egypt is making things harder for Hamas and its allies. Money transfers are more difficult, and since Operation Cast Lead, Israel has seen Egyptian efforts to stop weapons smuggling, Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet last month.

The report of Hezbollah actions in Sinai legitimizes harsher steps by the Egyptian regime. If it were only a matter of weapons smuggling into Israel, the Egyptian public response would not be as supportive. It would come as no surprise if it turned out that Israeli intelligence also helped uncover this terror network.

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