Egyptians in Terror Attack? Warning from Egypt to Israel? Where is U.S. Leadership? Playing Golf
By Barry Rubin
To begin with, President Obama's supporters are praising him for having overthrown Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi at no cost in American lives. I predict that the situation will break down within months into factional infighting, atrocities against civilians, and become a general mess. The main likelihood is not of an Islamist takeover but of rather nasty anarchy. While Obama's team are crowing today they will be eating crow--or more likely be blaming somebody else--by early next year at the latest.
In his column for NowLebanon, entitled "Qaddafi’s fall, Obama’s vindication," Hussein Ibish gushes:
"Though his decision to intervene in Libya was criticized from all sides, now President Obama can add Muammar Qaddafi’s scalp to that of Osama bin Laden. Unless Libya degenerates into total anarchy over the next 12 months, Obama will be virtually untouchable on foreign policy issues in the upcoming election campaign."
Not so fast! How about,aside from anarchy in Libya, such things as: the emergence of a radical, anti-American Egypt beating war drums against Israel; Lebanon increasingly a Hizballah puppet; Turkey rapidly becoming a police state sabotaging U.S. interests; a Syria in which the Obama Administration is idiotic enough to use the aforementioned Turkey as mediator thus helping radical Islamists there; an increasingly aggressive Iran; an explosion of anti-Americanism after Obama vetoes unilateral Palestinian independence; and lots more.
A walk down memory lane:
1991: Bush I defeats Iraq. Americans cheer
1992: Bush I loses election
2003 Bush II defeats Iraq. American cheer watching US forces advance at top speed; Saddam statue toppled. (Yes, I know Bush II was reelected in 2004 BUT...)
2008: As Americans heavily criticize the war in Iraq, this becomes the number-one foreign policy issue helping Obama to be elected. .
I think Obama will be incredibly "touchable" on Middle East policy. It's just that much of the mass media will sound like Ibish or jibberish on these issues.
1. A relatively reliable Egyptian newspaper is reporting that three of the terrorists killed in the cross-border attack on Israel were Egyptian citizens. Since the terrorists went from Gaza through Egyptian territory it is quite likely that they had such help and participation by Egyptians. If true, will the Egyptian government acknowledge this and what group did the Egyptian terrorists work with inside their country?
I have heard privately a detailed account from eyewitnesses that Egyptian troops fired on Israeli soldiers and were responsible for the death of an Israeli sniper but have not been able to confirm that.
2. An Israeli newspaper report says that the Egyptian government warned Israel that if there was a major Israeli operation against the Gaza Strip, where Hamas was launching about 100 rockets against Israel, it could not guarantee being able to control its population. If the report is accurate, the warning was not a threat but a statement of concern seeking to avoid a confrontation. The Israeli government decided not to respond with a major operation at this time. I believe this is the correct decision, especially on the eve of the UN debate over a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence. Israel wants to maximize international support over the next month. The timing will be better in future, as well as having better intelligence.
Again, I would stress that the report of the warning is not confirmed. I would add, by the way, that the situation in Egypt is likely to worsen over time, especially once the military government leaves office. But on the other side, if Israel is going to attack the Gaza Strip it might be preferable to do so when the Egyptian army isn't running things, and thus doesn't feel directly attacked itself. The level of provocation could be clearer and the UN issue over. All of this could happen as early as late November.
It is of the greatest importance that the U.S. government make clear to Egypt's regime the "red lines" that the Obama Administration would not allow to be crossed. A normal U.S. government would politely lay out the conditions that would lead to a cut-off of U.S. aid to Egypt (suspending the peace treaty with Israel; assisting terrorists to cross the border; allowing a free flow of weapons into the Gaza Strip, the failure to protect American citizens and property, etc). The fact that this isn't going to happen due to President Barack Obama's unique approach to international affairs makes a future war likely.
3. A good report on the attacking Palestinian group is available here Portions of the group work with al-Qaida; other factions work closely with Hamas. A key question is going to be whether Israel decides that Hamas was directly involved in the attack, increasing the likelihood of direct retaliation in the coming months.
4. In another development, there has been a split in the Syrian opposition. When leaders opposing the Syrian regime decided to proclaim the post-Assad country to be an "Arab republic," the non-Arab Kurds walked out. Syrian Kurds, who play an important part in the opposition, have also been grumbling privately about other things, specifically the involvement of their enemy, Turkey, in negotiating the future of Syria, and their own claims of increasing Muslim Brotherhood power within the Syrian revolution.
The Syrian Kurds are obviously inspired by the success of their fellow Kurds in Iraq to keep the definition of Iraq as "Arab" out of that country's constitution
PS: Some people have missed my point about Obama playing golf. He was playing golf and vacationing as a very dangerous attack was changing the whole Egypt-Israel equation and while the Libya revolution was moving to an endgame and while the future of Syria is being turned over by him to the Islamist regime in Turkey. I don't care how often Obama plays golf but my point is that he did not interrupt his vacation and did not take a leadership role on these three issues as they were taking place. And I don't care whether he was being briefed on the situation, the point is that there was no strong presidential involvement.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pjmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org.His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are at http://www.gloria-center.org