Reports that Egypt is constructing an American-designed metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip in an effort to block Gaza's smuggling tunnels, and has declared that the Rafah crossing will be closed to over 1,000 international Gaza Freedom marchers intending to enter Gaza at the end of the year, should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of USraeli-Egyptian collaboration since 1978. It is useful, however, to review the genesis of Egypt's current involvement in Palestinian affairs on USrael's behalf. The following account, Egypt & the Rise of Hamas, comes from an excellent new anthology: Egypt: The Moment of Change, Edited by Rabab El-Mahdi & Philip Marfleet, Zed Books, 2009:
"From 2002 onwards Egyptian officials began to play an active role in the 2 key areas of Palestinian politics. First they continued to transmit US and Israeli pressure to the Palestinian Authority, particularly by means of a reformed Palestinian security apparatus. The Egyptians claimed to be acting as impartial mediators between Palestinian factions, hosting talks between Fatah and the Islamists of Hamas, and brokering ceasefires when in 2007 the 2 factions came into conflict. Meanwhile Mubarak dealt directly with the Israeli government, facilitating the latter's strategy of 'disengagement' from Gaza. Under plans agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, Egyptian security advisers were to police the Palestinian security services after Sharon had organised evacuation of Israeli settlements. A joint statement by the Palestinian factions in June 2004 condemned Egypt's role as 'part of a policy of deception and fraud whose goal is to imprison the Palestinian people in a giant jail in Gaza while controlling the sea, the air and the borders and simultaneously widening the occupation of the West Bank with settlements and the separation fence'.* Egyptian officials countered that security advisers would only go to Gaza with a clear invitation from the PA. During 2005, Egypt appeared to be steering the PA (now under Arafat's successor Mahmoud Abbas) towards accepting an expanding Egyptian security role in the Gaza Strip. By August 2005 Egyptian security officials were training 5,000 Palestinian policemen in the Gaza Strip in preparation for Israeli withdrawal. Meanwhile, progress towards Egyptian-Israeli normalisation resumed with the return of the Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv and the signing of a $2.5 billion deal for the sale to Israel of Egyptian natural gas, which later caused uproar among the Egyptian opposition. In September 2005 Israeli settlements in Gaza were dismantled and Israeli troops withdrew from the area. Under the terms of an agreement brokered by the USA, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was to be under joint Palestinian and Egyptian control, but overseen by a European monitoring force. [*Surprise, surprise!]
"This neat division of responsibility between Fatah, Egypt and Israel was upset by Palestinian voters, who in January 2006 returned a majority of Hamas representatives in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. A new Palestinian government under Ismail Haniyeh soon faced an ultimatum from the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the USA, Russia & the EU), the major financial sponsors of the PA. Hamas, they insisted, must commit to 'non-violence' and to recognition of Israel, or forfeit all aid. In the absence of such guarantees, in April 2006 the USA and EU withdrew all support to the PA, adding to intense pressure on the population of Gaza produced by an Israeli blockade and chronic food shortages. Two months later Israel reinvaded Gaza - but failed to crush Hamas.
"The US officials now turned to Fatah, with Egyptian support, to achieve what the Israeli army had been unable to achieve. Egypt was to play a key role in preparing Fatah's militiamen for civil war, with the aim of destroying the Palestinian Islamists. In December 2006 Abbas called for new elections and dissolution of the Hamas government. Meanwhile Egyptian arms began to flow across the border to Fatah-controlled PA security services... Fatah security forces also received training in Egypt. In June 2007, however, Hamas routed Fatah's forces and seized military control of Gaza, pre-empting a US-backed military coup organised by Muhammad Dahlan, former head of the PA's Preventative Security Service. One factor prompting the Hamas initiative was a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that Abbas had asked Israel to allow passage to a further arms shipment from Egypt, including 'dozens of armored cars, hundreds of armor-piercing RPG rockets, thousands of hand grenades and millions of rounds of ammunition'.
"Fatah's humiliation in Gaza contributed to worsening relations between Israel and Egypt. Israeli officials accused [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak of turning a blind eye to arms smuggling to Hamas and increased their pressure on the USA to block or reduce aid to Egypt. Mubarak was now facing an acute dilemma, which came to a head in January 2008. Israel had tightened its siege on Gaza, periodically cutting off electricity supplies, blockading almost all goods and causing immense suffering to the civilian population. On 22 January, Palestinian women demonstrated in Rafah, calling on Egyptian forces to open the border. A series of explosions breached the border fence and soon hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were pouring through into Egyptian territory. Publicly the Egyptian government welcomed the Palestinians, laying the blame for their plight on Israel's policy of blockade. At the same time it ordered suppression of demonstrations in Cairo. Some 1,000 people, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested on 24 January as they attempted to gather in support of the Palestinians. Mubarak was eventually compelled to begin direct negotiations with Hamas over policing of the border.
"In December 2008, when Israel again assaulted Gaza, and Egypt refused to permit its residents to escape by entering Egypt, Mubarak was widely accused of having collaborated with the Palestinians' tormentors. Mass media across the region noted the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to Cairo a day before the attacks on Gaza, suggesting that Mubarak had known in advance of the assault. From Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah broadcast live on Arabic-language satellite channels, declaring cryptically: 'I am not calling for a coup in Egypt... but if you [the Egyptian government] do not open the Rafah crossing, if you do not help the Palestinian people, you will be considered accomplices in the massacre and the blockade'. In an unusual step Egyptian security services permitted a number of closely controlled demonstrations in central Cairo, although protests which began in universities and in provincial centres were attacked and many activists arrested." (pp 143-145)
If you found that depressing, how about the big picture of USraeli-Arab collaboration? The following overview, The Arab States as Instruments of US Policy is taken from Dishonest Broker: The US Role in Israel & Palestine, Naseer H. Aruri, South End Press, 2003:
"Arab regimes are among the principal tools of US foreign policy in the Middle East. The Jordanian military onslaught against the Palestinian movement in September 1970 inflicted structural damage, the effect of which continued to set back the Palestinian struggle for decades to come. Not only had the late King Hussein terminated the Palestinian-enforced de facto dual authority in Jordan, he also enabled the United States and Israel to maintain their strategic advantage in the east Mediterranean vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Likewise, when Palestinian fighters regrouped in Lebanon after the 'Black September' debacle of 1970 and began to threaten the delicate balance inside Lebanon and in the region, Syria was tacitly accepted by the United States and Israel as the logical candidate for the role of policeman in 1976. The Palestinian national movement once again had to be reduced to manageable proportions, this time, however, not by a conservative pro-Western monarchy, but by a self-professed 'revolutionary' Arab nationalist regime. The agreement, in which Israel and Syria came to share suzerainty over Lebanon, with US blessings, was the product of that mission.
"Egypt was drafted subsequently to deliver the coup de grace, peacefully this time, against the Palestinians. Camp David had inflicted more damage on Palestinian nationalism by nonmilitary means in 1978 than the two previous armed onslaughts combined. Thus, the first Arab state to assume responsibility for strategic balance vis-a-vis Israel, from the mid-1950s until 1970, was transformed in the late 1970s to an enforcer of US policy and a facilitator for Israel. Not only had Camp David I secured the removal of Egypt from the Arab strategic arena, it also allowed Israel to dodge its legal responsibilities to the Palestinian people and to shrug off its obligation to withdraw from Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese territories, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and international law.
"Even Iraq, the third contender for strategic balance vis-a-vis Israel, had allowed itself to become an instrument of US foreign policy during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. US policy makers were gratified to see Iraq inflict damage on the Islamic republic in Iran without cost to the United States, and to weaken itself in the process, thus undermining its desire to play the role of pacesetter in the Gulf. Moreover, Iraq's war against the mullahs turned Arab attention away from the Israeli threat and toward a presumed 'Shiite Iranian threat'. The Palestinian cause, already battered by Camp David, was further bruised by the redefined priorities of Saddam Hussein. And when Hussein began to exaggerate his own importance for US interests in the Gulf, he was reduced to size, not only with the acquiescence of Arab regimes, but also with the active participation of the Gulf states, Egypt, and Syria." (pp 6-7)