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Monday, September 27, 2004

Maariv International Al Hayat: Arab country assisting Israel against Hamas (Maariv)

This is a fascinating if somewhat implausible story. - EoZ
Maariv InternationalLondon based Arab daily claims Arab intelligence service providing the Mossad with vital information.

The respected London based Arabic daily Al Hayat reports that an Arab intelligence agency has been cooperating with the Mossad, providing it with significant and sensitive information about Hamas, especially its international activities.

According to the report, the Mossad requested the assistance, as it was unable to obtain the required information by itself, and has had little luck in penetrating Hams and other Islamic terror organizations, due to their effective counter-intelligence operational capabilities.

The information provided to the Mossad has given it detailed information on Hamas leaders, especially its leader Haled Mashal, who Israel attempted to assassinate in Jordan several years ago, and his deputy Mussa abu Marzouk. In addition the Arab intelligence agency has also furnished Mossad with detailed information on Hamas bureaus in Damascus, Beirut, Teheran and the Persian Gulf.

A western intelligence source hints that the Arab country in question may be Egypt. It claims that President Mubarak is gradually putting an audacious new strategy into place, which, if successful could provide credible foundations for a new Middle East power structure.

According to the intelligence source, the strategy is based on the assumption that Cairo can initially wean Damascus and the Palestinian terrorist organization from their alliance with Iran. The second stage is then to get Iran itself on board, after isolating it and leaving the Shiite Persians with no allies of any significance in the Sunni-Arab world.

Success of his endeavor would make the region a much friendlier place for the United States. Failure, he fears, would bring about the untimely withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and significantly weaken America’s status as a superpower.

Mubarak is using a sophisticated blend of sticks and carrots to get the Palestinians and Syria on board. The cooperation with the Mossad against Hams is to ensure that if it becomes necessary, the stick will be long, hard and sharp.

The strategy was devised by Mubarak and his veteran political adviser, confidante and alter ego Osama al-Baz. Its first step is achieving secret, far-reaching understandings between involving Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Mubarak believes he has persuaded Syria to pull away from its key role in the regional terror machine by reining in the influx of al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists entering Iraq via Syria, halting the flow of weapons and funds from Damascus to the Iraqi Baath insurgency, and staunching the supply of arms and money from Syria and Lebanon to the Palestinian terrorists.

Assad also indicated a willingness to curb the Damascus-based headquarters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and try and convince them to accept Egypt’s proposal of a 12-month ceasefire supervised by American, Egyptian, Jordanian and European observers.

On Thursday, September 23, Assad took a fist tentative step in this direction, throwing Hamas leader Haled Mashal and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Salah out of Damascus. He also closed both groups' command and communications centers, cutting off phones and electricity. Mashal has been dividing his time between Qatar, Damascus and Cairo, but he will nevertheless feel the loss of the Syrian capital. Neither welcomes him unconditionally. Qatar denies the Hamas chief a resident’s permit and Cairo stipulates his continued acceptance of a ceasefire with Israel. If this ban from Damascus remains in force, Teheran will be the only capital where he can stay with no strings attached

In addition he has taken some other steps towards defusing the crisis with Washington. These include an agreement with the US regarding patrolling the Syrian-Iraqi border, and a crack down on militants and terrorists joining the uprising in Iraq. Some small restrictions have been placed on the 3,500-4,000 Iraqi Baath leaders granted asylum in Syria. Assad has also agreed to dismantle his non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological) programs with Iran’s consent, which has been footing most of the bill.
Israel has been asked to reciprocate with a 12-month halt on all military action against Palestinian commands and terror bases, once the planed cease-fire comes into effect. During this period too, Sharon will be required to demonstrate whether he is able to execute his disengagement plan and withdraw all military forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, as well as make good on his promise to the United States to dismantle unauthorized outposts.

Arafat’s goodwill and the cooperation of his security services are the prerequisite for the success of the plan. However, until the moment of writing these lines, the Palestinian leader had still not given the Egyptian president an answer, despite repeated promises to do so.

In return Mubarak would actively take Syria’s side in negotiations over the Golan Heights, and, if necessary facilitate an accord between Damascus and Washington over this issue, which could make it extremely difficult for Israel not to accept.
US officials are keeping track of the Mubarak-Assad interchange without committing themselves. First, they say, Damascus must demonstrate that it means business by showing goodwill on two urgent issues: to stop providing the guerrillas in Iraq with a logistical base, and to end its occupation of Lebanon. Only if and when Assad delivers on those two counts would Washington contemplate getting involved in any way with the Golan issue.

On Lebanon too, the US administration does not object to an unwritten understanding that would enable Syrian troops to retain some armed presence in Lebanon, as the US sheriff’s deputy, to make sure Islamic militants remain neutralized. This would allow Assad to ensure any Lebanese government does not go too far in negotiating a peace treaty with Israel, as long as the Golan issue remains unresolved. The border with Israel would remain quiet, but Israelis will not be able to flock to Beirut and Lebanon’s ski resorts until Assad gets most of the Golan back.

This leaves Iran. Cairo, Washington and Jerusalem are all aware that Iran holds the keys to the success or failure of the entire initiative. Teheran however is also on the horns of a dilemma. So far its Iraqi policy has failed. Al Sadr’s uprising, which was hatched in and supported by Teheran, was a flop. In addition, its aid to both Shiite and Sunni insurgents in Iraq, including allowing al Qaeda personnel to enter the country and providing them with safe haven has not materially impacted the US will and capabilities to remain in Iraq for a long haul.

The Egyptian strategists believe that if they succeed in isolating Iran, leaving the Shiite Persians with no significant allies in the Arab-Sunni world, they will prefer joining the pax-Americana to standing alone against it.
Well seasoned in the evanescent nature of Middle East peacemaking and diplomacy, Mubarak and al Baz have set a precise timeline for the ripening of their multilateral project, precisely one week before the November 2 presidential election in America.

They reason that the guerrilla, terrorist war will peak then in Iraq. With this heavy cloud over his campaign, Bush will be badly in need of a ray of light. The announcement of a 12-month ceasefire in the Israel-Palestinian conflict after four years of warfare could lift his chances immeasurably at the twelfth hour.

The Egyptians also figure that a week will not be long enough for the ceasefire to break down, a predictable outcome given the track record of truces in this region. But by the time its does, Bush will be home and dry. He will also owe Mubarak big.

What will the Egyptian president expect as his reward? Our sources suspect he will not be satisfied with anything less than White House backing for his son, Jimmy Mubarak’s appointment to succeed him as president of Egypt.

For Mubarak this is a win-win situation. If he succeeds he historical stature will equal that of his mentor Sadat, a statesman who totally transformed the Middle East and reaffirmed Egypt’s preeminence as the ultimate leader of the Arab world.

If it fails, he has lost nothing, since so far he has acted extremely covertly, not risking loss of face. Neither he, nor anyone in Egypt would lose any sleep if Syria, Iran and the Palestinians end up in open and full scale conflict with the US and Israel. In fact, he probably secretly welcomes such an outcome. A nuclear capable Iran not part of the pax America-based international order poses a major potential threat to Egypt. Having an angry and possibly vengeful President Bush, no longer fettered by pre-election considerations, take care of that problem for him would not be such a bad outcome.

An interesting question is why Al Hayat, which is owned by Saudi interests chose to air this information at this time. Was the motive to help Cairo exert subtle pressure on Hamas by letting it be known that Israel is in a position to strike at its leaders, or is it a move by Saudi interests, possibly linked to Islamic militants, to wreck the initiative by publicizing it?