The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Now not only Hizbullah, but Iranian Revolutionary Guards?

I haven't really had time to weigh in on the Hizbullah-in-Egypt scandal, but the story continues to develop with more allegations and charges made against the Hizbullah cell, including another Shorouk scoop this morning that four Iranian Revolutionary Guards were arrested by Egyptian authorities last December, apparently entering on the country using Shia Iraqi IDs and networking with Iraqi Shia refugees in Cairo. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the public prosecutor is preparing a "surprise" when more charges are formally filed, which some think will include charges against Hassan Nasrallah himself.

The informed consensus among Egyptian commentators is that Hizbullah made a mistake in toying with Egypt's sovereignty, but that Egypt should not exaggerate in its response either. Most center around the accusation, confirmed by Nasrallah, that Hizbullah was setting up a logistics support network for Hamas' weapons supply line. It would be naive to assume that this is strictly all they were doing, some level of spying should also be assumed. Most commentators reject the accusation that Hizbullah was planning attacks against Israeli tourists in retaliation for the assassination of its military chief Emad Mughniyeh, although some recent information has surfaced that there may have been parallel networks operating: in addition to the ones helping Hamas, there might have also been one concentrating on the Iraqi Shia community and what one might call general purpose espionage, for instance on the Suez Canal (rather, as some newspapers have alleged, a plan to fire shoulder-launched missiles at passing ships.)

Although the brouhaha over this affair will probably have the intended effect of turning part of Egyptian public opinion against Hizbullah on nationalist grounds -- and I would certainly agree that any country should be concerned about arms smuggling and espionage operations taking place -- it is also highlighting Egypt's strangehold on Hamas supply lines (financial and military) which the likes of columnists Fahmy Howeidy, the Muslim Brothers' General Guide Mahdi Akef and others are condemning. Nasrallah, in his unusual confession that Hizbullah does have operatives in Egypt, also reiterated the helping-Hamas-as-a-duty line that has some resonance here, and not just among Islamists.

Perhaps more details on the accusations to date later...

Update: I wanted to ask readers who are more familiar with Hizbullah than I am the following: the Egyptian press reported in the last couple of days that the name of the Hizbullah handler for their Egypt operation is called Muhammad Qabalan, alleged to be the head of intelligence for Hizbullah. And that Emad Mughniyeh's replacement as head of military operations is called Talal Hamiyeh. Anyone familiar with those names?