JERUSALEM (May. 23)
Despite his dire warning about possible war in the Middle East, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains “firmly committed to the strategy of peace,” Israeli Labor Party leader Shimon Peres said Wednesday in Cairo.
Peres, who met twice with Mubarak while in Cairo for a meeting of the Socialist International, said the Egyptian leader told him Israel would be surprised by the Arab response if it were more forthcoming on the peace process.
Peres’ remarks to Israeli correspondents in Cairo went some way toward easing the sharp reaction here to threatening remarks Mubarak reportedly made in an address to the Socialist gathering Tuesday.
The leader of the only Arab country to have a peace treaty with Israel was quoted as warning that increased Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel could displace the Palestinian population and lead to war.
Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said Mubarak’s words linking aliyah with war “can be seen as a legitimation of aggression against Israel” by the Arabs.
Other Israeli officials expressed deep regret over Mubarak’s reported statement. They said he knew full well “that the danger of war in this region is caused by the Arab states’ refusal to end their state of war with Israel.”
But Peres presented a different version of Mubarak’s remarks, corroborated in articles published here Wednesday by several Israeli journalists who interviewed the Egyptian president.
According to Peres, Mubarak did not speak against aliyah but against the settlement of Soviet olim in the administered territories, “so long as the future of those areas is not resolved and remains disputed.”
“That is the formulation he used when talking to me,” the Labor Party leader said.
“I was deeply impressed by the stability of Mubarak’s position,” Peres added. “He has remained firmly committed to the strategy of peace and tries to broaden its base, from Moammar Gadhafi to Hafez Assad,” the virulently anti-Israel leaders of Libya and Syria respectively.
CLAIMS IRAQ NOT THREATENING WAR
According to Peres, Mubarak said he would never allow his country to return to the wasteful path of war and military spending. The Egyptian also claimed that many more Arab leaders than Israel supposes actually seek and desire peace.
Israelis are concerned that next week’s Arab summit meeting in Baghdad, which begins Monday, will issue bellicose statements that could lead to a deterioration of the situation in the region.
Only last month, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq threatened to destroy “half of Israel” with chemical weapons.
In interviews with the Israeli media, Mubarak sought to assure Israel that Hussein is not threatening war. And he urged Israel not to attack Iraq.
He made clear the Iraqi leader “has not forgotten” the 1981 pre-emptive attack by the Israeli air force to knock out a nuclear facility under construction near Baghdad that Israel contended would produce nuclear weapons.
Hussein now fears a similar move by Israel, and it would be “dangerous” for Israel to attempt one, Mubarak told the Israeli daily Davar.
Egyptian officials announced last week that Israel asked Egypt to convey to Iraq assurances that it does not plan or intend a first strike against any Arab state.
A spokesman for the prime minister in Jerusalem later denied the Egyptian formulation, but affirmed Israel does not plan to attack Iraq.