EGYPT, THREATENED BY IRANIAN EXPANSIONISM & HAMAS, WARMS TO ISRAEL

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Iran’s Old-New Role in the Region: Rami Aziz, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2015 — In examining Iran’s attitudes toward the Arab world in light of the Iranian nuclear deal, it is important to remember that Iranian interests in the Arab world have a long history beyond the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Egypt and the Hamas "Cockroaches": Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 26, 2015— Egypt's President Abdel Fatah Sisi has once again proven that he and his country will not tolerate any threats from Hamas or other Palestinians.

Trading Peace in Egypt and Israel: Oren Kessler, Foreign Affairs, Aug. 23, 2015 — This year marks the tenth anniversary of an Egyptian-Israeli economic partnership that has quietly pumped billions into Cairo’s vulnerable economy.

Israel: An Unexpected Surprise: Haisam Hassanein, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 16, 2015 — Good evening. It is my pleasure to speak to you on this evening that represents the end of one chapter in our lives, and the start of another.

 

On Topic Links

 

Islamic State Branch Says Caliphate’s ‘Soldiers’ Bombed Cairo Courthouse, National Security Building: Thomas Joscelyn, Long War Journal, Aug. 20, 2015

Russia, Egypt Set to Sign Deal For Nuclear Plant, Jordan as Leaders Visit Moscow: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2015

Egypt Turns to Russia to Combat Terrorism: New York Times, Aug. 26, 2015

Egyptians and Their Leaders are Warming to Jews, Israel: Jerusalem Post, Aug. 6, 2015

                  

                                   

IRAN’S OLD-NEW ROLE IN THE REGION

Rami Aziz                              

Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2015

 

In examining Iran’s attitudes toward the Arab world in light of the Iranian nuclear deal, it is important to remember that Iranian interests in the Arab world have a long history beyond the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

From Persia to the Islamic Iran, the country has consistently demonstrated its desire for the land and wealth of the Arab states and the rest of the region. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s views are only the most recent expression of this desire.

 

In his July Id al-Fitr speech, Khamenei stated that, “Whether or not the draft text of the nuclear agreement is ratified, Iran will not relinquish its support for the government of Syria, the oppressed people of Yemen and Bahrain, or the loyal fighters of Lebanon and Palestine.” Khamenei’s words underscore longstanding Iranian policy, with Iran’s effective occupation of the three Emirati Islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, along with Iran’s indirect meddling through proxy forces such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine.

 

Nor have Iranian actions suggested a policy different from that outlined by the ayatollah. Iran has proven particularly obtrusive in Bahrain, where according to Sky News Arabia, Bahrain Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa recently accused Tehran of opening terrorist training camps, sheltering wanted individuals and smuggling explosives, weapons and ammunition into the country.

 

Moreover, it is clear that at least some Iranian officials are presenting Iranian expansionism in the context of ancient Persian territorial goals. Rouhani’s advisor and former intelligence minister Ali Younis, in a forum titled “The Iranian Identity” held in Tehran this March, stated that, “Today, Iran has once again become an empire as it has been throughout history. This empire’s capital is Baghdad, the center of our civilization, culture and identity today as it was in the past.” These remarks are a clear reference to an attempted restoration of the pre-Islamic Sassanian Empire, which occupied Iraq and took the city of al-Mada’in (Csestephon) as its capital.

 

Younis continued in this vein, stating that “the entire Middle Eastern region is Iranian… we will defend all of the region’s people because we consider them part of Iran. We will stand against Islamic extremists who label others as infidels as well as the neo-Ottomans, the Wahhabis, the West and the Zionists.” All of these examples confirm the aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran to take on a new role in the region through which it can achieve its undying dreams of past glory. And these sentiments have created noticeable effect on Arab states’ understanding of and responses to current Iran-centric issues such as the nuclear deal.

 

For many in the Arab world and greater international community, the ayatollah’s statements suggest little interest in neighborly cooperation and a state policy incompatible with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s outward presentations of Iran’s goals. Gulf Cooperation Council General Secretary Abdullatif al-Zayani and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry have responded by denouncing Khamenei’s remarks, describing them as contradictory and damaging to the establishment of good relations. Non-Arab states have also expressed concern, with US Secretary of State John Kerry describing Khamenei’s words as “disturbing” to Al Arabiya.

 

Many facets of Arab media have recognized Iran’s expansionist tendencies and the Iran nuclear deal’s potential boost of them. Writing in the Egyptian government newspaper al-Ahram, former Egyptian foreign minister and ambassador to the United States Nabil Fahmy has written several articles presenting different aspects of this issue. In the articles, Fahmy calls on the Arab states to safeguard their own interests and end their reliance on the West – represented by the United States. Fahmy’s article alludes to the growing lack of confidence between the countries of the region – particularly the Gulf countries – and the United States, previously considered their first line of defense against Iranian aggressions.

 

It is unfortunate that the Iranian state has not followed a policy of neighborliness supported by many Arab states and even Iranian politicians like President Rouhani, since Iran and Arab states’ close proximity in the region can produce nuanced economic and territorial relationships. Iranian and Arab heads of state have exchanged a variety of visits in the past decade. Economic considerations also demonstrate the complicated ties between Iran and Arab states. Despite Iran’s occupation of the Emirati islands, the Emirates tops the list of Arab trade with Iran by exchanging $17 billion in trade in 2014. Prior to the most recent batch of sanctions, imposed on Iran in 2011, the Emirates’ trade with Tehran was even higher, reaching a record $23b.

 

Both Kuwait and Bahrain also engage in trade and economic cooperation with Tehran, although the volume of trade is somewhat less significant than that of the Emirates. During the Morsi presidency, Egypt also engaged in trade with Iran, although this quickly ceased after his overthrow, and Sisi’s decision to not invite President Rouhani to the opining of the extended Suez canal demonstrates the poor quality of relations…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

                                                                                   

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EGYPT AND THE HAMAS "COCKROACHES"                                                                                   

Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Aug. 26, 2015

 

Egypt's President Abdel Fatah Sisi has once again proven that he and his country will not tolerate any threats from Hamas or other Palestinians. The crisis that erupted between Sisi's regime and Hamas after the removal from power of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi two years ago, reached it peak in the past few days with the kidnapping of four Hamas operatives in Sinai.

 

The four men were snatched from a bus shortly after crossing from the Gaza Strip into Egyptian territory on August 19. Reports said that unidentified gunmen stopped the bus and kidnapped the four Hamas men, who are wanted by Egypt for their involvement in terrorism. Although initial reports suggested that the kidnappers belonged to a salafi-jihadi group based in Sinai, some Hamas officials have accused Egyptian security forces of being behind the abduction. The Hamas officials even issued veiled threats against Sisi and the Egyptian authorities, and said that they held them fully responsible for the safety of the Hamas men.

 

A statement issued by Hamas warned the Egyptian authorities against harming the four men. "These men were the victims of deception and their only fault is that they are from the Gaza Strip," the statement said. "This incident shows that the criminals are not afraid to target our people." Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk said that his movement holds the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for any harm caused to the abductees. He said that the kidnapping raises many questions and its circumstances remain unclear.

 

Hamas claims that salafi-jihadi groups in Sinai have informed its representatives that they did not kidnap the four men. According to Hamas officials, the abduction took place near the border with the Gaza Strip — an area where the Egyptian army maintains a large presence. Sources in the Gaza Strip, however, have confirmed that the four men belong to Hamas's armed wing, Ezaddin al-Qassam. The sources said that the men were apparently on their way to Iran for military training. The sources pointed out that the four had received permission from the Egyptian authorities to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing. The visas, however, are supposedly for civilians, not for Hamas operatives.

 

Hamas's threats against Egypt have, meanwhile, enraged the Egyptian authorities as well as some top journalists in Cairo. Egyptian authorities responded by refusing to give permission to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and some leaders of his movement to travel to Qatar and Lebanon through the Rafah border crossing. The Hamas leaders were hoping to hold talks with some of their colleagues in those two countries about the possibility of reaching a long-term truce with Israel.

 

The Egyptians' refusal to allow the Hamas leaders to leave the Gaza Strip has further strained relations between the two sides. Hamas representatives in the Gaza Strip were quoted as accusing the Egyptian authorities of "conspiring" against the movement and all Palestinians. In Cairo, Egyptian security officials denied any link to the kidnapping of the four Hamas men. However, the denials have fallen on deaf ears and no one in Hamas seems to believe the Egyptian authorities. Even worse, Hamas representatives continued over the past few days to issue warnings and threats against Egypt.

 

As in the past, each time tensions rise between Hamas and Egypt, the Egyptians unleash some of their senior journalists against the Islamist movement. Since President Morsi's removal from power, the Egyptians have displayed zero tolerance when it comes to Hamas. They are particularly fed up with reports about Hamas's increased involvement in their internal affairs and links to terror groups in Sinai.

 

During the last war between Israel and Hamas, several Egyptian journalists and public figures openly expressed hope that the Israelis would destroy the movement for once and for all. Other journalists in Cairo, who are openly affiliated with the Sisi regime, have even urged their government to launch attacks against Hamas bases in the Gaza Strip.

 

This week, and in wake of the renewed tensions between Hamas and Egypt, Egyptian journalists resumed their rhetorical attacks against the movement. The question that most of these journalists asked was: What are Hamas members doing on Egyptian soil in the first place? The journalists accused Hamas of exploiting Egypt's humanitarian gestures to smuggle its men out of the Gaza Strip.

 

One of these journalists, Dina Ramez, who is known as a staunch supporter of President Sisi, launched a scathing attack on Hamas, calling its members and leaders "cockroaches." Referring to the Hamas threats against Egypt, Ramez said: "Has anyone ever heard of cockroaches or ants that could threaten lions? These cockroaches belong to Hamas, which is threatening Egypt following the abduction of four of its men. I want to ask the Hamas cockroaches a simple question: What were your four men doing in Sinai? Haven't you denied in the past the presence of any Hamas men in Sinai? So where did these men pop up from? I dare you to approach the border with Egypt. We have confidence in our army and our response will be painful. It will be a strong and deterring response against any cockroach that dares to come close to our border or threaten Egypt."

 

Regardless of the identity of the kidnappers, the incident shows that Sisi and the Egyptian authorities continue to view Hamas as a threat to Egypt's national security. The incident also proves that Hamas does not hesitate to take advantage of Cairo's humanitarian gestures to smuggle its men out of the Gaza Strip. Obviously, the four Hamas men were not on their way to receive medical treatment or pursue their studies in Egypt or any other country.

 

That they are members of Ezaddin al-Qassam speaks for itself. Instead of dispatching its fighters to Iran and Turkey, Hamas should have allowed medical patients and university students to leave the Gaza Strip. But Hamas does not care about the well-being of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Rather, it cares about sending its men to Iran and Turkey to receive military and security training. This practice by Hamas is something that the Egyptian authorities have come to understand, which is why they are refusing to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The question now is whether the international community will understand Hamas's true intentions and plans — namely to prepare for another war against Israel.                                                              

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TRADING PEACE IN EGYPT AND ISRAEL                                                                              

Oren Kessler                                                                                                        

Foreign Affairs, Aug. 23, 2015

 

This year marks the tenth anniversary of an Egyptian-Israeli economic partnership that has quietly pumped billions into Cairo’s vulnerable economy. The free-trade framework known as Qualifying Industrial Zones, or QIZs, is one of the few points of economic normalization to have grown out of Israel’s 1979 peace agreement with Egypt and subsequent deal with Jordan. Given the flagging Arab economies and regional instability, the success of QIZs has implications far beyond the bottom line.

 

Essentially, QIZs are industrial parks through which participating countries—specifically Egypt and Jordan—can export goods under the flag of the U.S.-Israeli free-trade agreement. Egypt is now home to 15 QIZs and Jordan to 13, which together account for some $1 billion in exports a year. QIZs differ from other free-trade zones in that they are not the purview of a single country. Rather, they are jointly operated by Israel and either Egypt or Jordan, with oversight from Washington. Moreover, their products all have a single destination: the United States.

 

QIZs are the brainchild of Omar Salah, a Jordanian businessman—who, like 70 percent of his countrymen, is of Palestinian descent—seeking to capitalize on the optimism that followed the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords and the following year’s Israeli-Jordanian peace deal. He was particularly keen to find a way to take advantage of a free-trade agreement that the United States had signed with Israel eight years prior.

 

Rebuffed by Jordanian officials as “naive,” Salah traveled to Washington to lobby the State Department, White House, and U.S. trade representative, whose interest finally piqued that of Salah’s own government in Amman. The QIZ agreement was signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1996, and stipulated that at least 35 percent of the product content of QIZ exports to the United States must come from Jordan, Israel, or the Palestinian territories, whereas the rest could come from anywhere in the world (but would be funneled through the QIZs). At least 11.7 percent of the material (later reduced to 8 percent) had to be Israeli. Everybody won: Jordan now had duty-free trade with the world’s largest consumer market and Israel had achieved the first economic agreement with any of its neighbors, one with labor costs 40–70 percent lower than its own.

 

Inspired by that example, Egypt followed suit in late 2004 with its own QIZ deal with Washington, which went into force in early 2005. In the decade since, Cairo has tripled textile exports to the United States, and Egyptian QIZs now supply fabrics to American brands such as Gap and Levi Strauss. All told, the QIZs house nearly 700 companies, export nearly $1 billion in goods to the United States (according to State Department figures), and provide a livelihood for nearly 300,000 people. Roughly half of Egyptian exports to the U.S. now come from QIZs.

 

Egyptian cotton is famously high quality, and textiles are a pillar of the country’s export economy. Still, that economy remains hobbled by a soaring population, low foreign-exchange liquidity, rising inflation, and a growing terrorist menace that has curbed tourism. In response, Egypt has doubled down on the QIZ program. In February, Cairo announced plans to double its QIZ textile exports within three years—something it seems serious about doing—and in May it proclaimed that more industrial areas and product sectors were in the works.

 

As for Jordan, the kingdom has less than one-tenth Egypt’s population, and its economy is correspondingly smaller. Like its more sizable neighbor, however, the kingdom faces daunting economic challenges, including scarce natural resources, six percent inflation, and the burden of housing, feeding, and employing some 600,000 Syrian refugees. For Jordan too, the QIZ has been a blessing. In the decade after the program’s founding in 1997, the kingdom’s exports to the United States spiked from $15 million to $1.2 billion. This success led to the Jordanian-U.S. free-trade agreement of 2000, Washington’s first with an Arab state. That agreement has partially overshadowed Jordan’s QIZ program, but it still rests largely on the infrastructure created by it. Today, Jordanian QIZs outfit brands from Walmart to Calvin Klein to Victoria’s Secret. They employ 43,000 people, most of them women.

 

To be sure, the QIZs achievement is not unqualified. Critics note, accurately, that a significant portion of the zones’ investment comes not from local investors but from other Arab states and Asia. Much of the revenue, they say, accrues to a few big firms. In Jordan, a majority of the QIZ workforce is foreign, and labor-rights groups have highlighted potential abuses.

 

The loudest criticism of all comes from the overwhelming majority of Egyptians and Jordanians who still oppose normalizing ties with Israel. For years after the Egyptian-Israeli QIZ agreement, for instance, the Egyptians balked at joining their neighbors in joint trade roadshows in the United States. Oddly enough, it was in 2013, during the short-lived presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Mohammed Morsi, that the cash-strapped Egyptians finally asked their Israeli counterparts to hit the road together. That joint marketing strategy has continued, and earlier this year, North America’s largest textile trade show held a gala dinner in Las Vegas to mark ten years of the Egyptian-Israeli QIZ. Bilateral cooperation now extends beyond the QIZs: Israel recently signed preliminary deals to sell natural gas to Jordan and Egypt.

 

These are small steps. Yet in the era of ISIS, civil war in Syria, and turmoil over the Iranian nuclear program, it is encouraging to witness some Middle Eastern entrepreneurs promoting a daring idea: that decades-long enmities can fade, and that doing business with old foes may even pay off.

                                                                       

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ISRAEL: AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE                                                                           

Haisam Hassanein                                                                                                       

Jerusalem Post, Aug. 16, 2015

 

Good evening. It is my pleasure to speak to you on this evening that represents the end of one chapter in our lives, and the start of another. I’d like to invite you all to take a moment to reflect about the beginning of your adventure in Israel. Do you remember receiving your acceptance letter? You were probably excited to come to Israel. Then, you started telling people you were coming to Israel, and maybe you started to get a little nervous. Everybody is in this room has had a friend or a family member who warned him not to come to Israel.

 

There’s war there! Aren’t you afraid of being blown up? Do they even have water there? Do Jews speak English? If you think you heard a million reasons why not to come to Israel, I heard a million and a half. Growing up in Egypt, my entire country had opinions about Israel, and none of them were positive. All we knew was that we had fought bloody wars, and they were not like us. My exposure to Israel was through music and television. On the radio, there were anthems about the destruction Israel had caused. In the movies, Israelis were spies and thieves, and in spite of the fact that our countries struck a famous peace accord in 1979, the Israelis, I was told, were our worst enemies.

 

A recent Egyptian action film called Cousins, a box-office hit, told the story of an Israeli spy who married an Egyptian woman and had a family with her, only to kidnap her and her children to Israel. When I told my mom I was coming to study in Israel, she was understandably terrified that I would get a girlfriend. I arrived to Israel knowing only what I had learned in the movies and in the media. So, at the airport, when the security official asked why I decided to come here, I half-joked, “I always heard the Jews are bad people, and I came to see this for myself.”

 

I expected to find that people here were unfriendly, and especially unhappy to meet Egyptians. I was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite. I was invited everywhere, from Shabbat dinner, to Ramadan Iftar meals, to plays and even to political gatherings. And the diversity I found here was as surprising as the warmth of the people.  On my very first day here at the university, I saw men in kippot and women in headscarfs and hijabs. I saw soldiers walking peacefully among crowds of lively students. I learned there were people of every kind on campus, and that the university had a space for all of them – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druse, Beduin and even international students. I discovered that the diversity of the Tel Aviv University campus was reflected in Tel Aviv too.

 

How fascinating is it to be in a country where you can to go a beach and see a Muslim woman, a gay couple kissing, and a Hassid sharing the same small space? Where else can you find a Christian Arab whose apartment is decorated in posters of Mao and Lenin? Where else can you see a Beduin IDF soldier reading the Koran on the train during Ramadan? Where else can you see Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews arguing about whether or not Ashkenazi families had kidnapped Yemenite babies in the 1950s? To be sure, my experience here has been defined by the unexpected…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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On Topic

                                                                                                        

Islamic State Branch Says Caliphate’s ‘Soldiers’ Bombed Cairo Courthouse, National Security Building: Thomas Joscelyn, Long War Journal, Aug. 20, 2015—The Islamic State’s branch in Egypt has claimed responsibility for a bombing near two government buildings in Cairo earlier today.

Russia, Egypt Set to Sign Deal For Nuclear Plant, Jordan as Leaders Visit Moscow: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2015 —Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi were set to sign a deal for the construction of a nuclear power plant at a meeting on Wednesday in Moscow, a source close to the negotiations said, according to a report by Russia’s state news agency, Sputnik International.

Egypt Turns to Russia to Combat Terrorism: New York Times, Aug. 26, 2015—Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Wednesday called for a coalition to combat terrorism in the Middle East.

Egyptians and Their Leaders are Warming to Jews, Israel: Jerusalem Post, Aug. 6, 2015 —It’s been a particularly challenging summer for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Within one week in late June and early July, his attorney general was assassinated in the upscale Cairo suburb of Heliopolis and an Islamic State affiliate launched a two-day siege in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid.