ANALYSIS / Egypt Anger Over Iran Likely Led to Hezbollah Spat

Egypt is not pleased with Iran's strengthening position, especially U.S. overtures to it.

The open confrontation between Egypt and Hezbollah intensified a bit more on Sunday after the general prosecutor in Cairo said he is considering indicting Hassan Nasrallah for running terrorist cells in Egypt and inciting against the state. The idea is to try Nasrallah in absentia and turn him into a wanted terrorist whose extradition can be demanded if he is convicted. Or Egypt will be able to go after him itself. But it would be unusual for charges to be brought against Nasrallah; an Arab state would be indicting the head of an organization that is part of another Arab state's leadership.

The Egyptian authorities have incessantly fed details to the press on the terrorist and intelligence ring that Hezbollah operated in their country. On Sunday night, Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida cited sources in Cairo as saying that not only Nasrallah was involved in the ring, but also the Iranians. The main question is why did the Egyptians choose to release the information now and not four months ago, when the ring was uncovered?

The answer appears to lie beyond the hostility between Egypt and Hezbollah. Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, is not pleased with Iran's strengthening position and especially the American intention to begin dialogue with it. Cairo was pushed to the sidelines of the U.S. agenda when President Barack Obama opted to begin his "Muslim" trek in Turkey and not Saudi Arabia or Egypt, and when he gave the Iranian regime a massive boost in his speech. So showing that Iran has blood on its hands was a necessary diplomatic move by Egypt.

Meanwhile, Arab responses to the affair have begun to flow in; most of them are highly critical of Hezbollah's "interference" in another Arab state. "The danger with bin Nasrallah [as in bin Laden] and those like him is that they aspire to bring down governments and set up areas of anarchy that are subservient to Iran inside Arab lands so that our countries will become like Lebanon .... And the excuse is ever present: to defend Palestine, precisely the same excuse used by Saddam Hussein when he occupied Kuwait," wrote the editor of Saudi Arabia's Al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday, Tareq Al-Humaid.

It would be far-fetched to attribute real concern in Egypt that Hezbollah can bring the regime down, but no doubt Cairo has long lost its patience with groups trying to play the role of states, whether Hamas, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood. If the Palestinians need assistance, Egypt will help, and when the need arises, it will turn a blind eye to the smuggling of weapons and other equipment into the Gaza Strip. Egypt's main interest is to control events entirely, without allowing any party to transform the country into a base for carrying out terrorist attacks. For Egypt, this isn't just a matter of sovereignty or price, it's a matter of national security.