Few were happier with the rise to power in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood than its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas.
Deposed President Hosni Mubarak had sided with the secular nationalist Fatah controlling the West Bank in its rivalry with Hamas, and his successor, Mohamed Morsi, a former Brotherhood leader, was expected to back his fellow Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
But Morsi’s election didn’t bring the closer relations and support Hamas had expected. The new Egyptian president appears to be a big disappointment for the Gaza-based terrorist group and an unintentionally pleasant surprise for Israel.
It’s not that Morsi likes Israel that much. In a 2010 video he called Jews “blood-suckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs,” and when a group of visiting U.S. senators brought it up recently, he said his comments were distorted by the Jewish controlled media.
Love us or not, he’s apparently decided it is in his and Egypt’s best interest to get along with Israel – and the United States – even if it is at the expense of his brethren in Hamas.
Egypt has many problems internally – its economy is in the pits and public anger is rising in the face of restrictive Islamist rule; lawlessness in spreading the Sinai and policemen in the cities are going on strike – and the last thing Morsi wants is for Hamas to drag him into a war with Israel.
“I don’t think Egyptians want to go to war at all, now or later, over Israel or anything else. The truth is that Egypt made peace with Israel out of the absolutely correct understanding that it would never win. Morsi may hate Jews, but he’s not going to lead Egypt over that cliff (for Hamas),” said Shoshanna Bryan, senior director of the Republican-affiliated Jewish Policy Center.
Hamas expected Morsi to end Mubarak’s cooperation with Israel’s blockade of Gaza, , but if anything the noose has tightened. Morsi acted not because Israel wants the smuggling stopped – which it does – but because it is also in Egypt’s security and economic interests.
Rather than open up to more tunnel traffic, Morsi has been closing tunnels, even to the point of flooding some with raw sewage.
An outraged Hamas foreign minister Mahmoud Al-Zahar said Morsi is worse than Mubarak because he is “starving us” by trying to stop the smuggling.
An Egyptian court declared the estimated 225 cross-border tunnels illegal and a threat to national security and ordered them destroyed, according to Egyptindependent.com. The Egyptian army had earlier called the tunnel smuggling a security threat.
A state-run news magazine accused Hamas leaders of being behind the killing of 16 Egyptian border guards in the Sinai last year. The Egyptian government has said the killers crossed into Egypt from Gaza via the tunnels. It is believed the attack was in retaliation for the Egyptian military’s campaign to destroy the tunnels. Hamas has denied involvement and accused the magazine of being a “collaborator with Israel.”
The Sinai has become like the Wild West with a mixture of ideologues and entrepreneurs running the arms trade there. Militant groups, mostly Bedouin tribes, have repeatedly blown up an Egyptian pipeline supplying gas to Jordan and Israel. They are also heavily involved in illicit weapons trade, auctioning off the remnants of Muammar Qadaffi’s arsenal to the highest bidders. Just this week the Egyptian military confiscated two pickup trucks trying to smuggle 60 anti-tank weapons from Libya to Gaza.
Islamist rebels from the Sinai attacked an Israeli bus and civilian car near Eilat in August 2011, killing eight Israelis, using weapons apparently smuggled from Libya, Reuters reported.
The tunnels are not just for weapons and terrorists but also a wide variety of merchandise from illegal drugs to fuel, construction materials, clothing and even stolen cars. For Egypt is it not just a security and sovereignty problem but financial as well since the smugglers are avoiding paying any taxes to the Cairo government. On the other hand, Hamas gets a hefty income from taxing the smuggling.
A danger for Egypt is not just that it might lose control of the lawless Sinai but that the al-Qaida and Iranian affiliated groups operating there might consider Morsi’s Islamist government and the Muslim Brotherhood too moderate for their tastes and organize violent opposition to his rule.
Last week Egyptian authorities deported seven Palestinians to Gaza as security threats after landing at Cairo Airport, apparently on their way back from Syria and Iran. An unnamed Egyptian security official said they were carrying “plans pertaining to ambushes, night combat, the range of heavy missiles, plans to attack installations, military training and explosive production.”
A Hamas politburo member told al Jazeera that some in the Egyptian media are trying shift the focus of hatred from Israel to the Palestinians by “waging a smear campaign” against Hamas.
The Morsi government brokered the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after the most recent round of fighting.
Dan Schueftan, a visiting professor at Georgetown University, praised President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for doing “exactly the right thing” in defusing the crisis. “Both leaders understood that bringing Egypt to share responsibility for ending the fighting” was critical.
“Morsi didn’t behave like the Jew hater that he is but like the president of Egypt, and Netanyahu looked beyond the question of will Hamas be beaten to the real issue of what will happen to U.S-Israel, Israel-Egypt and Egypt-U.S. relations, and both of them did just the right thing,” he said.
“The message Morsi sends to Hamas is ‘if you expected because I am a Muslim Brother I will share in your irresponsibility and I will bring relations with Egypt and Israel to the brink of eruption, I will not play your game,'” Schueftan said. “And this message to a large sense is responsible for the relative tranquility we have now surrounding Gaza since the fighting.”
Hamas may be disappointed in its Muslim brother Mohamed Morsi, and that’s unexpected good news for Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu.