Elliott Abrams

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Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Morsi’s Tests: Hamas and Sinai

by Elliott Abrams
August 13, 2012

Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza after Egypt closed the crossing following the deadly attack on its soldiers on Sunday, August 6, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Stringer). Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza after Egypt closed the crossing following the deadly attack on its soldiers on Sunday, August 6, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Stringer).

Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, acted with unexpected energy and speed to remove the top ranks of Egypt’s military this weekend. But he has not yet disclosed what his policy will be toward the linked tests of Hamas and Sinai.

After the terrorist attack that killed 16 Egyptian border police, Morsi reacted with strong words and visited northern Sinai with Field Marshal Tantawi–then the head of the Egyptian military, now cashiered by Morsi. Several days of strong military action followed, including the first use of jets and helicopter gunships in Sinai since the 1973 war.

But now what? Will Morsi instruct the new top brass he has appointed to take on the great challenge of restoring law and order to Sinai? Will he insist that Cairo, not the jumble of smugglers, criminals, and terrorists that have had a nearly free hand, rule Sinai? That task would take months and probably years of sustained effort.

Linked to it are the questions of Hamas and Gaza. Despite the international complaints against “Israel’s blockade of Gaza,” under President Mubarak the blockade was as tough from the Egyptian as from the Israeli side. And as Hamas has recently complained, the Egyptian “blockade” remains in place under Morsi and the Brotherhood:

We suffered from the unjust regime of Mubarak that participated in the (Israeli) blockade of Gaza. Why should we suffer now in the era of Egypt’s revolution and democracy?” said Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad.

“The Egyptian leadership is requested to order the reopening of the Rafah crossing to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians wanting to travel, students, patients, residents in third countries and pilgrims,” he added in a statement.

Israel has for years refused exit visas for all but a tiny minority in Gaza, making Rafah the sole window on the world for almost all of the enclave’s 1.7 million Palestinians, with some 800 people a day using the terminal to reach Egypt.

Since the closure, thousands have been stranded, although Cairo did order a brief opening on Friday to allow Palestinians trapped in Egypt to return home.

Egypt said on Monday it would open the crossing temporarily yet again, but just for three days, mainly to permit travel for humanitarian cases such as Palestinians seeking medical care abroad, and students, a Hamas official said.

“If Palestine was not a top priority for you, you should change direction,” Hammad said in an unusually sharp rebuke.

Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are linked historically and ideologically, so maintaining a closed border will be difficult for Morsi. But opening the border risks allowing into Egypt jihadis and other violent extremists who have gathered, and trained, in Gaza. Opening the border for a couple of days when there is a holiday, such as the Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, is one thing; ordering that the border be truly open is another.

Law and order and government control in Sinai require real Egyptian-Israeli intelligence and military cooperation, something else it will be difficult for Morsi to maintain for ideological reasons. Morsi has just chosen a whole new group of military leaders and has also replaced the head of the intelligence service.  What instructions will they now receive: keep up that cooperation with Israel, or stop working with the Zionist enemy?

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Paratroopers Day

    Keep up that cooperation with the United States, or stop working for pay.

  • Posted by iyas

    There is of course another option. Open the borders to Gaza so that Gaza’s people can finally be treated like humans and get much needed supplies, food and so on as denied by the Israeli siege, and close the tunnels, thereby preventing movement of jihadists if that is a real fear. This Egypt will cut off illegal access to its land and force all access through a controlled border, and at the same time Gazans can be relieved of an illegal and immoral mass punishment.

  • Posted by Jossef

    There is no “seige” on Gaza and no shortage of food and supplies in Gaza and all claims to the contrary are bogus and intended to enable Hamas to receive more arms; ufortunately there is not even a shortage of weapons inspite of Israel’s attempt to block shipments of weapons. When Egypt opened the Rafah border Hamas refused to close the smuggling tunnels for one reason only, to continue the smuggling of arms. Egypt is now learning a lesson Israel learned long time ago, Hamas is untrustworthy and opportunistic; itwill not cooperate even with other Muslim Brotherhoods and will participate in terror even against Egyptians. Hamas is a cancer that must be erradicated, not negotiated with and definitely not receive concession.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Something about this doesn’t pass the smell test … In fact it stinks to high heaven . Is it possible that the attack on the border guards was a put-up job engineered by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas to give Morsi an excuse to clean house with the top brass in the Egyptian military ? Okay … So color me cynical !

  • Posted by Coldenav

    Actually for many Hamas was created with the approvel of the israelis . Therefore it’s quite possibe for the mossad to have orchestrated the Sinai massacre . The goal is clear : putting the brotherhood and Hamas at odd with each other…

  • Posted by Salim Motiwalla

    The whole world knows that Israeli agents killed the 16 Egyptians soldiers and not the Hamas, who are not capable to carry this out

    Who and how can the illegitimate Israelis regime fool the world when the truth is out and the Egyptian Army is waiting for the next Israeli wrong move – This was a bigger mistake than the attack on the Turkish peace vessel – Israel is putting itself it bigger shit puddle one after another – This will be the beginning of the end of Israel

    Them Israel will be truly isolated in the Muslim world, which hates Obama and his anti Muslim Policies more

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