The Jerusalem Post - December 23, 2004

THE NEW MIDDLE EAST

by Sarah Honig

In the milestone year of 1993, Shimon Peres gave us Oslo and the key to the mind-set that produced it - his book The New Middle East. On page 96 he omnisciently informed us that "in the not-too-distant past, history was a chain of military and political conflicts; today international relationships based on economics are the dominant characteristic."

Gullible souls fell for this malarkey. Among them was Druse-Israeli Azam Azam who, inspired by Peres's assertions, sought his fortune south of the border. All he gained were eight years of hell behind Egyptian bars.

But - Azam's suffering notwithstanding - the resolution of his story is just the sort Peres loves to promote as proof that his new Middle East yet thrives, despite tangible evidence to the contrary. The only minor imperfection in a perfectly happy ending is Azam's decision to join the Likud - not Labor.

Other than that, goodwill blossoms all over. Some 170 Palestinian terrorists are going home - to continue their struggle against our existence - as a token of Israeli gratitude to Hosni Mubarak for releasing Azam on the eve of the recent Likud Central Committee session. Mubarak thereby boosted the likelihood that it'd bless the Sharon-Peres remarriage. See how it all comes together?

A dubious match is expedited, and the best man is handsomely recompensed for his services. Everyone has every reason to be pleased, except perhaps those of us killjoys who obstinately abstain from merrymaking and uncooperatively insist on reading the small print of the unpublicized nuptial agreement. And so, while everyone else celebrates, exudes congratulatory wishes, and hopes for the best, we agonize.

With obstructionist pettiness we focus not on Mubarak's magnanimity in freeing "a convicted spy" (as the international media described Azam) but on the fact that he inflicted (without apology) prolonged torment on an innocent individual to signal his rejection of normalization a la New Middle East.

WE'RE LIKEWISE benightedly unimpressed with talk about the expected return of the Egyptian ambassador and the speculation that Mubarak will cajole several other Arab potentates to dispatch diplomats as well. We of little faith can't forget that the presence of Cairo's envoy was anyhow mandated by the 1979 peace treaty, and that his extended absence is nothing but a brazen violation thereof.

We can't discern the wisdom of paying for a maybe-end to a flagrant breach of contract after Mubarak demonstrated for years that there's no penalty for reneging on undertakings to Israel.

Remarketing previously promised searches for Israeli MIAs in Sinai is a con.

The same goes for renewed rosy predictions of economic cooperation - the very sort that landed Azam in the dungeon. It's likely that Mubarak wishes to hitch a ride on Israel's trade agreements, but making suckers of us is hardly coexistence, especially after Israel systematically overlooked the fact that Cairo uses 75% of Washington's financial aid for massive rearmament. The inordinate growth of Egypt's army has made it the biggest in the region - despite ostensible peace.

Its state-of-the-art weaponry, training in assault tactics, and drills in maneuvers to cross the Sinai speedily all point towards a projected anti-Israeli offensive. Egypt has long ago upset the strategic balance, and the looming IDF retreat from Gaza will facilitate any contemplated future aggression.

If Egypt's intentions were honorable, it wouldn't disseminate virulent Sturmer-like Jew-hatred and wouldn't tolerate rampant gunrunning from its territory via Rafah's tunnels. By allowing Egypt to deploy armored corps on the Gazan frontier - supposedly to combat these subterranean smuggling routes - Israel renders itself exceedingly vulnerable and recklessly discards the most significant defense mechanisms of the peace treaty. Egyptian military might at Israel's gateway isn't necessary to defuse Gaza.

Moreover, by aggrandizing Mubarak as a man of peace, we help cover up his indulgence for terror. We also provide him with a casus belli. After the surrender of Gush Katif, any move against Kassam crews will be construed as an unforgivable personal attack on Mubarak.

This cannot be risked, especially when he might at long last grace us with a visit. Thus far he has assiduously boycotted Israel despite obsequious wooing by most of our PMs, with the notable exception of Yitzhak Shamir - the last one for whom the notion of national honor still mattered.

But Peres, Shamir's antithesis, expunged even national interest from his lexicon. Having converted Sharon to Peres-speak, the number-two stand-in premier can now spin new visions of sugar-coated regional harmony - like those he peddled at the hastily convened 1996 Sharm-el-Sheikh anti-terrorism summit half a year before Azam's arrest.

To this day - numerous Israeli casualties later - Peres hasn't backtracked from his dramatic announcement then that "the dark days are at an end. The shadows of their past are lengthening. The twilight of wars is still red, yet its sunset is inevitable and imminent - it will be a new Middle East."


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