OpinionIran in the World PressIran's new target: Egypt

Iran’s new target: Egypt

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ImageWall Street Journal: On April 8, Egypt announced it had uncovered a Hezbollah cell operating inside its borders. This startling pronouncement offers a rare insight into the way Iran and its proxies are manipulating Middle East politics.

The Wall Street Journal

Cairo's desire for Mideast peace threatens Tehran's ambitions.

Opinion

By ABDEL MONEM SAID ALY

ImageOn April 8, Egypt announced it had uncovered a Hezbollah cell operating inside its borders. This startling pronouncement offers a rare insight into the way Iran and its proxies are manipulating Middle East politics.

According to Egyptian authorities, the cell was tasked with planning attacks against tourist sites in Sinai, conducting surveillance on strategic targets including the Suez Canal, and funneling arms and money to Hamas. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has admitted that the ringleader of the cell was indeed a member of his organization to provide "logistical support to help the Palestinian brothers in transporting ammunition and individuals."

These latest actions by an emboldened Hezbollah have been spurred on by Iran, which is seeking to further its quest for power in the Arab Middle East. In the past six months, there have been irrefutable signs of Iran's determined effort to sabotage Egypt's attempts at regional stability. At Tehran's instigation, Hamas rejected the renewal of the six-month, Egypt-brokered cease-fire last summer between it and Israel. This rejection led to the Gaza war in December. At the height of that war, Mr. Nasrallah called on the people of Egypt and its army to march on the city of Rafah to open the border to Gaza by force, a highly inflammatory appeal aimed at causing insurrection.

After the war ended, Egypt resumed its efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire. Iran pressured the Hamas leadership to resist. Cairo's ongoing effort to build a Palestinian unity government, by bringing together Fatah and Hamas, has also been undermined by intense Iranian pressure on Hamas.

Tehran sees Egypt as its greatest rival in the region, and the most formidable Arab bulwark opposing its influence. It is in this context that Hezbollah actions in Egypt should be assessed. Acting as a front for Iranian objectives, Hezbollah is tasked with distracting Egypt from the diplomatic process that will hopefully lead one day to a two-state solution in the Palestine-Israel conflict.

Egypt's persistent attempts to bring about peace in this arena and its encouragement of other Arab countries to follow its path with Israel threaten to deprive Iran of the single most potent regional issue that it can exploit to further its radical agenda. Thus Tehran seeks to undermine the prospects for this peace — and it, along with its clients, believe the way to do this is by undermining Egypt. Similarly, Egypt's security interests in the Gulf, and its traditional role as a force for regional stability, present a clear obstacle to Iran's wider regional ambitions.

For President Barack Obama and members of his administration watching from the sidelines, the implications should be clear. A final settlement of the Palestine-Israel conflict is indispensable if the U.S. wishes to check Iran's expanding influence in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the U.S. administration will have to contend with a right-wing Israeli government that has yet to subscribe to the principle of a two-state solution in defiance of international consensus. It will also have to press Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity, which now more than ever endangers the fundamental basis for a solution.

The administration's focus on the immediate issue of Iran's nuclear program should not distract it from addressing Tehran's overall posture towards the peace process or its support for terrorism. Iran's challenge to the regional status quo is multifaceted, which is why Washington must adopt a comprehensive approach as it formulates its nascent engagement with Iran.

It is said that Mr. Obama is still weighing when and where to deliver a major speech to the Arab world. If he were to make such a speech in Cairo, it would give heart to millions in the region who want to see the peace process succeed. It would also send a firm message to Tehran that America stands with Egypt on the side of peace and stability.

Mr. Aly is director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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