Egypt's Top Enemy

As if to top off the long list of issues dividing Egypt and Hezbollah, an unusual statement, in both detail and content, was released in Cairo last week. It discusses Hezbollah's activities, including its operatives in Egypt, with plans to attack tourist sites there and possibly shipping through the Suez Canal.

Egyptian sources say an investigation has been underway for many weeks, and the details come as Cairo is being criticized for allegedly cooperating with Israel in the air strikes in Sudan against arms-smuggling convoys (which foreign sources say Israel is responsible for), or for at least failing to warn against the air attacks.

If we are to judge on the basis of the details released in Egypt, this is one of Hezbollah's largest undercover terrorist operations outside Lebanon, one that includes Palestinians, Sudanese, Lebanese and Egyptians. It involves a complex process of conscripting operatives, relying on local support and assuming the Egyptians would turn a blind eye. The fact that some of the suspects have sought Muntaser al-Zayat as their defense attorney, an important Muslim Brotherhood activist, may suggest that this group assisted the ring. Zayat has denied any connection between the suspects and the activities attributed to them.

Egypt has been carrying out intensive intelligence work in Sinai and nearby, and occasionally reports on its success in capturing explosives and smugglers. But the current chapter is a very loud and clear public announcement aimed for the ears of the U.S. administration and Israel, on the one hand, and Egypt's enemies in the Middle East.

Egypt thus says it takes seriously its commitment to prevent arms smuggling through its territory to the Gaza Strip, and that it will not allow, "in the name of solidarity with the Palestinians," its sovereignty and security to be undermined. "Exposing the ring perhaps reflects the willingness of those who run it to assist Hamas, but mostly to harm Egypt," an Egyptian political source told Haaretz. "Whoever thinks Egypt will set aside its national interests and allow terrorist groups run by foreigners to operate from inside its territory is making a bitter mistake."

The release of the details and blaming Hassan Nasrallah - holding him directly responsible for funding and organizing a terrorist ring inside Egypt - aims in part to counter the Hezbollah chief's biting criticism of Egypt during Operation Cast Lead. Nasrallah accused Egypt of collaborating with Israel against the Palestinians. It appears that just as the Egyptian regime rallied the local media against Hamas, it is now trying to hurt Hezbollah's image as the guardian of the Palestinians.

Exposing the ring is also directed against Syria, and mostly Iran. Egypt has tense relations with these two countries because of their role in foiling Cairo's efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation. Egypt is also bitter about Syrian President Bashar Assad's statements about Hosni Mubarak. Iran is depicted in the Egyptian press as the supreme enemy of Egypt and the Arabs in general. The revelations about the ring confirm Egyptian suspicions and justify Cairo's diplomatic efforts against Iran.