A new Washington Institute report indicates the Obama administration’s efforts to reconcile with Iran has made Egypt uneasy and caused alarm in Cairo.
The report, authored by researchers David Pollock and Mohammad Yaghi, said Egyptian and other Arab diplomats have not been comforted by the administration’s efforts to reassure them its change in policy toward Iran does not mean abandoning its opposition to Tehran’s nuclear and regional destabilization efforts.
According to the report, titled “Egypt’s Campaign against Iran Sends Washington a Signal,” Egypt’s announcement of the presence of a Hezbollah network in Cairo and the Sinai Peninsula was meant to express President Hosni Mubarak’s dismay over U.S. policy toward Iran.
The Egyptians have been particularly concerned over Iranian attempts to infiltrate Arab states. The Hezbollah cell, reportedly financed by Iran, has been regarded as part of Tehran’s policy of destabilizing pro-U.S. allies in the Middle East.
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“At a recent State Department briefing for a select group of friendly Arab states, including Egypt, the U.S. message reportedly emphasized that its efforts to engage Iran now would improve the prospects of confronting Iran later, if necessary,” the report said. “The Arab diplomats apparently did not find this message entirely reassuring, with some asking pointedly about more immediate Iranian threats. Egypt’s new revelations about the Hezbollah plot on its own territory present the most vivid case in point.
“Cairo is sending a signal to Washington that the nuclear file is not the only – or even the most urgent – aspect of the Iranian threat.”
The report also revealed that Egypt arrested the commander of the Hezbollah network in November 2008, but the Mubarak regime refrained from disclosing the network until it decided to try to influence U.S. and Arab policy toward Tehran.
“It clearly reflects that Cairo is taking sides in an increasingly polarized pan-Arab debate on Iranian influence in the region,” the report said. “Especially striking in this case is Cairo’s outspoken challenge not just to Hezbollah, but also to its Iranian patrons.”
The authors of the report urged the Obama administration to help Egypt battle Iranian destabilization efforts. They wrote the Egyptian campaign against Hezbollah could provide Washington with an opportunity to demonstrate its support for its allies in the Arab world.
“The United States should move quickly to provide strong public support and tangible assistance to Egypt and other Arab governments in their efforts to counter Iran’s increasingly brazen subversion,” the report said. “Such a stance is not incompatible with Washington’s search for a way to engage Iran. On the contrary, the essence of smart statecraft lies precisely in the ability to talk while simultaneously protecting one’s interests and preserving one’s principles.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com