Reading The Tealeaves From Egypt To Syria


Mordechai Kedar is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the founder and director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam, which is now in formation at Bar-Ilan University. He was here recently to speak about developments in the Middle East to the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University. He is an expert on Arabic literature and culture and Middle East affairs.

Q : Should the new leaders of Egypt decide to break the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, would Israel move to take back the Sinai?

A : It is a possibility that cannot be ruled out because the Sinai was given to Egypt in return for peace. If the peace treaty is canceled by the Egyptians, there might be a justification for Israel to take the Sinai over. I have no idea if it will. But if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency [May 23] and then cancels the peace agreement and starts to move the army, that would be dangerous and Israel would probably invade the Sinai to create a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel.

How is the Brotherhood functioning now that their chief sponsor, Iran, has cut off funding?

Of course they need money and Iran is no longer supplying it, mainly because they suspended the jihad in Israel and wouldn’t go along with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad because he is butchering Muslims.

They still have donors in Europe and America, and money is still being smuggled into Gaza. In addition, Israel gives them money from taxes it collects [on Hamas’ imported and exported goods]. Hamas is exporting tomatoes and other vegetables to Europe. Israel wants to promote the economy of Gaza so it won’t be blamed that the Gazans are hungry.

Assad continues to wage war against his own people. But other than sending in some observers and imposing sanctions, the international community has done little to stop him.

He can hang on as long as he continues to butcher his people, and I don’t think this rebellion will stop. It will continue on a low fire. The more power the regime exercises, the more people are willing to act against it. It is escalating and we hear that more and more soldiers are defecting and that some politicians are leaving the ruling elite.

Many Lebanese are upset that Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist group and political party led by Hassan Nasrallah, is supporting Assad.

Many Arabs in many Arab states today hate Nasrallah, especially because six years ago he was the hero of the Arab world after he prevailed in the war against Israel. Now he is now persona non grata because he takes part in butchering Syrians by providing Assad with snipers.

If Syria collapses, Hezbollah might do one of two things: It might take over Lebanon in a blitzkrieg to make sure that nobody will act against it, or the Christians of Lebanon will feel Hezbollah is weakened and try to challenge Hezbollah’s power. This might cause a civil war. However, since they know they are much weaker than Hezbollah, the Christians might divide the state and establish their own Christian state in the northern part of Lebanon.

Might Israel be drawn in?

No. Israel tried to re-engineer Lebanon and failed time and again; it will not try to do it again.

The terrorist group Hamas recently held elections in the Gaza Strip. What’s going on?

Since they took over Gaza five years ago, Hamas shifted from a jihadi [holy war against Israel] organization to a governing elite. They became corrupt and they now have all kinds of inner groups of friendship, loyalty, interests and personal issues that have started playing a major role.

I wouldn’t say there’s fragmentation, but it becomes a conglomerate of groups which struggle with each other to gain more from the government — jobs, budget, influence — just like any other governing elite in the world. They have hung up the jihad against Israel [for now] saying that their jihad now is to build a state and function like a state.

Yet we are still seeing missiles fired at Israeli towns and cities.

Some are being launched by global jihad organizations in the Sinai or by Palestinians who operate in Sinai.

There were reports that some of the missiles came from Libya after Muammar Kaddafy was overthrown and killed.

Storage sites of the Libyan army were looted by the rebels and others and sold for money to the Palestinians, who are smuggling them to the southern Sinai through the sea and on land through Egypt.

What are your thoughts about an Israeli military attack to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program?

I don’t think Israel will attack Iran without an existential threat, and Israel is not in the first row of targets – like Turkey, North Africa and Europe. It will not sacrifice itself to rescue the world from the Iranian problem.