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Bedouin Arms Smugglers See Opening in Sinai - Matt Bradley and Joshua Mitnick (Wall Street Journal)
Israeli officials are concerned that a power vacuum in Cairo and the withdrawal of police forces from the Sinai Peninsula will embolden the Bedouin tribes who help smuggle weapons to Hamas militants in Gaza.
In a sign of rising tensions, Bedouin in northern Sinai on Friday used rocket-propelled grenades to attack the headquarters of Egypt's state security in El Arish, according to witnesses.
Earlier in the week, Mohammed Abu Ras, the leader of a Bedouin tribe who enjoyed friendly relations with the Egyptian forces, was gunned down outside a meeting between tribal leaders and Egyptian army generals.
Sinai Bedouin are also widely suspected of having bombed a natural-gas pipeline that connects Egypt with Jordan and Syria in June.
Menachem Zafrir, a former civilian security liaison at the border farming cooperative at Nitzanei Sinai, said he has noticed in the past week that Egyptian border forces are no longer facing toward Israel. They have turned around toward Sinai, he said, "to make sure the Bedouin don't slaughter them."
Natural Gas Supply to Israel Cut Off after Egyptian Blast - Janine Zacharia (Washington Post)
Egypt temporarily suspended its natural gas supply to Israel as a security precaution after an explosion at a terminal in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Israel radio said Saturday.
Technicians had to shut off valves controlling the flow of natural gas into pipelines transporting gas to Israel, Syria and Jordan.
Israeli radio said that the explosion damaged a pipeline to Jordan, not to Israel, but that the supply to Israel was cut off as a temporary precaution.
See also Attack on Egypt Gas Line Forces Jordan to Use Fuel Reserves - Taylor Luck (Jordan Times)
An explosion targeting gas lines in Al Arish resulted in a complete suspension in the supply of natural gas from Egypt, which the Kingdom of Jordan relies on for 80% of its electricity generation needs.
Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources Secretary General Farouq Hiyari said officials have switched power generation stations to diesel and heavy oil. "We have sufficient reserves of diesel and heavy oil for 30 days," he said.
Egyptian state media said the gas line to Jordan was targeted by "extremist" groups who were believed to have intended to damage the Arish-Ashkelon line which supplies natural gas to Israel.
Hamas Commander Back in Gaza after Egypt Jailbreak - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
Senior Hamas commander Ayman Nofal, who was arrested in Sinai in 2008 for planning a terror attack in Egypt, returned to Gaza on Saturday after breaking out of a Cairo jail during the political upheaval in Egypt.
Hamas sources said Nofal had commanded the group's armed forces in central Gaza.
See also Out of Egypt: Escaped Would-Be Bomber Is Home in Gaza - Linda Gradstein (AOL News)
Hassan Wishah from Gaza was imprisoned in Egypt three years ago after he was caught in the Sinai Desert trying to slip into Israel to carry out a suicide bombing. He was transporting explosives when he was arrested.
As riots engulfed Cairo, the police and guards left the prison, allowing Wishah, 27, to escape to Sinai and then through an illegal underground tunnel to Gaza, arriving to a hero's welcome.
"I was hoping I could be a martyr, but this did not happen for me," he told me, saying he hopes he will become a martyr in the future.
See also How I Escaped from Prison in Egypt (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Alaa al-Sayad, coordinator for the relatives of detainees in Egyptian prisons, said "out of the 39 political detainees being held in Egyptian prisons, 12 have managed to escape over the past few days." They are all members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
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- West Backs Gradual Egyptian Transition - Kareem Fahim, Mark Landler and Anthony Shadid
The U.S. and leading European nations on Saturday threw their weight behind Egypt's vice president, Omar Suleiman, backing his attempt to defuse a popular uprising without immediately removing President Hosni Mubarak from power. American officials said Suleiman had promised them an "orderly transition" that would include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups.
(New York Times)
See also Clinton Warns Against Hasty Exit for Mubarak - Mark Landler
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Sunday that removing President Mubarak too hastily could threaten the country's transition to democracy. Her remarks were the Obama administration's most explicit sign yet of its growing emphasis on averting instability in Egypt, even at the expense of the key demand from the Egyptian protest movement: Mubarak's immediate removal.
(New York Times)
- Egyptian Government in Talks with Egyptian Opposition Groups - Craig Whitlock and Griff Witte
On Sunday, the main Egyptian opposition groups eased up on their insistence that President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately, agreeing instead to join in talks toward overhauling the country's political system at a more gradual pace while Mubarak remains in office.
Among those who joined for the first time in talks with Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, were leaders from the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, along with a loose coalition of political parties, intellectuals and protest organizers.
While thousands of protesters continue to occupy Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo, the shift by opposition leaders suggested that Mubarak and his allies may have succeeded in defusing those who had insisted that the president resign as a precondition for any talks.
- Obama: Muslim Brotherhood or Suppression Are Not the Only Options in Egypt - Bill O'Reilly
President Obama said in an interview Sunday: "Egypt is not going to go back to what it was. The Egyptian people want freedom. They want free and fair elections. They want a representative government. They want a responsive government." "[Mubarak has] been a good partner when it comes to the peace with Israel. There have been counterterrorism efforts that he's been very supportive of. But we've also said consistently to him both publicly and privately that trying to suppress your own people is something that is not sustainable."
Q: The Muslim Brotherhood is a great concern to a lot of people. Are they a threat to the USA?
Obama: "The Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don't have majority support in Egypt....They are well-organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S. There's no doubt about it. But...it's important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people." (Fox News)
- ElBaradei: Maintenance of Peace Treaty Dependent on Israeli-Palestinian Relations - David Gregory
Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday:
Q: Should Egypt in the future always maintain the peace treaty with Israel?
ElBaradei: I think so. But it's not just dependent on Egypt. It's also dependent on Israel. Israel should not continue to apply a policy of force vis-a-vis the Palestinians, [and] should agree to what everybody knows, that the Palestinians have the right to establish a state.
Q: Dr. ElBaradei, people who are hearing this will hear equivocation and there will be great fear about a potential leader of Egypt saying that the peace treaty is not rock solid with Israel.
ElBaradei: Well, I think everybody [is] saying it is rock solid, but everybody [is] also saying that at the same breath that whether Egypt is a democracy, whether Egypt is a dictatorship, everybody in Egypt, everybody in the Arab world will want to see an independent Palestinian state.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Quartet Refuses to Endorse Unilateral State, Upsetting Palestinians - Tovah Lazaroff and Khaled Abu Toameh
Palestinian leaders said they were disappointed that the Quartet refused to heed their call for unilateral statehood and instead continued to throw its support behind a negotiated solution, when it met on Saturday in Germany.
- Netanyahu and Blair Announce Economic Steps to Assist Palestinian Authority
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Quartet Envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair announced on Friday new steps to support economic growth in the Palestinian territories.
(Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
See also Palestinians Reject Israeli Economic Package
The Palestinian Authority rejected on Saturday a package of economic cooperation measures announced by Israel the day before, calling it "totally unacceptable."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday approved a raft of measures that included a proposal for developing natural gas fields.
Netanyahu said that steps would be undertaken to make Hamas-run Gaza "independent of Israeli infrastructure by helping to develop their electricity plants, water and sewage treatment." (AFP)
- U.S. Trying to Balance Israel's Needs in the Face of Egyptian Reform - Helene Cooper and Mark Landler
The crisis in Egypt raises many questions about how the U.S. will navigate its relationship with Israel - in particular the balance between encouraging the development of a democratic government in Egypt and the desire in Washington not to risk a new government's abandoning Mubarak's benign posture toward Israel. The unsettled outlook in Egypt has also scrambled American calculations about nurturing peace talks back to life between Israel and the Palestinians. And it has left both American and Israeli diplomats wondering about a broader regional realignment in which Israel would be left feeling more isolated and its enemies, including Iran and Syria, emboldened.
"The situation tends to highlight Israel's strategic value to the United States as a stable and unequivocal ally in a very unstable region," said Michael B. Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington. He added: "The situation does reinforce the need for security guarantees, regarding a future Palestinian state, because we see how the current situation in the Middle East can change very rapidly." (New York Times)
- Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: In Their Own Words - Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
The Muslim Brotherhood has taken a greater role in organizing the protest against the Egyptian regime as it unfolds its independent political agenda. Rashad al-Bayumi, the Brotherhood's second-in-command, announced in an interview with Japanese TV that the group would join a transitional government in order to cancel the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He further stressed that Egypt does not need American aid.
The Muslim Brotherhood does indeed participate in the democratic process. That is not, however, because it has accepted the principles of Western democracy, but rather because the democratic process can be exploited to establish an Islamic regime which will then render democracy unnecessary.
The Muslim Brotherhood's step-by-step plan dictates its supposed "moderation," which will gradually vanish as its achievements increase and its acceptance of the existing situation is replaced by a strict, orthodox Muslim rule whose foreign policy is based on jihad.
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Lebanon, Not Egypt, May Determine the Fate of Democracy in the Middle East - John R. Bolton
Western support for Lebanese democracy has been for the most part limited to a series of Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolution 1559, calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and Resolution 1595, creating an international investigation commission to assist Lebanon in prosecuting the Hariri assassination. But Hizbullah foiled these efforts in 2006 by provoking war with Israel. The Security Council ultimately imposed a cease-fire and called for "the disarming of all armed groups in Lebanon," for an embargo against rearming Hizbullah, and for Lebanon's government to take control of its entire territory, in order to eliminate Hizbullah's state within a state.
But, as so often before, the West did not follow through. Instead, Iran and Syria rearmed and restored Hizbullah to greater strength (unequivocally demonstrating that Hizbullah was their proxy).
The West must insist on enforcing the Security Council resolutions in support of Lebanese sovereignty and peaceful, representative government, or stop engaging in meaningless gestures. This is our last opportunity before Hizbullah's armed capabilities swallow democracy in Lebanon, perhaps permanently, and dramatically increase the risk of renewed hostilities throughout the region.
We must refuse to recognize any Hizbullah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hizbullah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.
(Los Angeles Times)
- Is Jordan Next? - Oded Eran
Last week Jordan's King Abdullah II replaced Samir Rifai as prime minister with Marouf al-Bakhit, a general and former ambassador to Israel. Two-thirds of the population is of Palestinian origin, with Jordanian citizenship and the right to vote for and to be elected to both chambers of Parliament. But Palestinians account for fewer than 20% of members of Parliament, due to a less than fully democratic electoral system that has nonetheless helped to maintain a sense of democracy. Jordan's 100,000-strong army is all-Hashemite - that is, Bedouin - and is absolutely loyal to the king. Every opposition party or force in the country is well aware of that.
Washington can amuse itself with demands for full democracy in Egypt. The stakes of embracing a similar position for Jordan are much higher. The U.S. should refrain from sending messages of encouragement to the Jordanian opposition. Iran, emboldened by its recent success in Lebanon and the collapse of the regime of Egypt's President Mubarak - an outspoken critic of Iran - is an obvious candidate, in cooperation with Syria, to meddle in Jordan. Israel has a clear interest in the territorial integrity of Jordan and the maintenance of its current political system. Any alternative is counterproductive to Israel's long-term interests.
The writer is director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former ambassador to Jordan.
Democracy's Tribune, Natan Sharansky, on the Arab Awakening - David Feith (Wall Street Journal)
In his book, The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky argues that all people, in all cultures, want to live in freedom. In an interview last week, Sharansky offered his view of the current revolutionary movement. "The reason people are going to the streets and making revolution is their desire not to live in a fear society." In Tunisia and Egypt, as in the former Soviet bloc countries, people were not
free to stand in their town square and express their opinions without fear of arrest or physical harm.
- "Why is there such a big danger that if now there will be free choice for Egyptians, then the Muslim Brotherhood can rise to power? Because they are the only organized force which exists in addition to Mubarak's regime." By Sharansky's calculus, simply propping up Mubarak's fear society made it more likely, not less, that radicals would gradually become the only viable opposition and be best-positioned to gain power when the regime inevitably fell.
- Sharansky points out that Mubarak is no great man of peace. Indeed, since 1979, Egyptians' "hatred toward Israel only grew....Egypt became one of the world centers of anti-Semitism." That's because all dictators must cultivate external enemies in order to maintain their grip on power. So even when Mubarak "lost Israel as an enemy, he continued to need Jews as the enemy."
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