JERUSALEM (Sep. 22)
Iraq could be the second Arab country to negotiate peace with Israel, according to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose country under the late Anwar Sadat was the first.
Mubarak offered that upbeat assessment during a conversation last week with the new Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Professor Shimon Shamir.
While it is not entirely without credibility, Israeli officials are more interested in — and pleased with — Mubarak’s invitation to Shamir for a private tete-a-tete.
The Israeli envoy had just presented his credentials at the presidential palace in Cairo, one of 11 ambassadors to do so.
But only Shamir and the new ambassador from Iraq were asked to stay for separate, substantive conversations with the president after the ceremonies.
Shamir is no stranger to Cairo. He founded and headed the Israeli Academic Center there and is considered his country’s foremost expert on Egypt and Egyptian affairs.
Mubarak’s remarks to him, behind closed doors, were reported in Yediot Achronot Thursday by its usually well-informed Arab affairs correspondent, Smadar Perry.
The Israeli newspaper quoted the Egyptian president as telling the ambassador from Jerusalem, “There is an Arab partner.”
According to the report, Mubarak numbered Iraq among the moderate Arab states.
Statements by Tariq Azziz, the Iraqi foreign minister, and other diplomats in Baghdad, tend to bolster the notion that Iraq is adopting more moderate rhetoric with regard to Israel.
But recently, following Iraq’s successes in the war and cease-fire terms that were favorable to Baghdad, Israel has become increasingly apprehensive.
Officials and commentators in Jerusalem speak more than ever of the possibility that Iraq’s vast and battle-hardened army might be turned against Israel in a future Arab-Israeli war.
Although it is generally conceded here that the Iraqi army will stay massed on the Iran border for some time to come, Iraq’s use of chemical warfare and ballistic missiles is seen by Israel as introducing a new and dangerous elements into the region that could be emulated by Syria and other foes of Israel.
Still, Iraq’s closeness to Egypt and its desire to maintain sympathy in the West, despite its proven poison gas outrages, lend credence and interest to Mubarak’s reported opinion.