|Egypt allegedly has deep-seated fears on Iran’s financial and military support for Hamas and Hezbollah [Reuters]|
US ally Egypt was frightened by the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East and the possibility Iran could obtain nuclear weapons, an April 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks said.
Egypt’s spy chief told US officials last year that Iran was trying to recruit Egyptian Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula to help smuggle arms into the blockaded Gaza Strip, the leaked US document said.
“[Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman] has expressed concern over Hezbollah’s first attempt to[establish] a cell within Egypt, and noted to us that Iran was also trying to recruit support from the Sinai Bedouins, he claimed, in order to facilitate arms smuggling to Gaza,” the cable said.
But the cable said Egyptian officials and their American allies differed in their perceptions of “the Iranian threat”.
“While he (President Hosni Mubarak) will readily admit that the Iranian nuclear program is a strategic and existential threat to Egypt and the region, he sees that threat as relatively ‘long term’,” the cable said.
“What has seized his immediate attention are Iran’s non-nuclear destabilising actions such as support for Hamas, media attacks, weapons and illicit funds smuggling, all of which add up in his mind to ‘Iranian influence spreading like a cancer from the GCC (Gulf Arab states) to Morocco’.”
Aid to Hamas
A separate cable released earlier by WikiLeaks quoted Mubarak as telling American officials that Egypt might have to develop nuclear arms if Iran did.
The first cable added that Suleiman noted Iranian financial support to Hamas “amounted to $25 million a month, but that Egypt was ‘succeeding’ in preventing financial support entering Gaza through Egypt”.
“According to (Suleiman), Iran has tried several times to pay the salaries for the al-Qassam Battalions, but Egypt had succeeded in preventing the money from reaching Gaza,” it added.
Iran says its support for Hamas is diplomatic only.
The cable said Interior Minister Habib el-Adli had described Egypt’s efforts to fight weapons smuggling on the Egypt-Sudan border as “difficult.”
“In March, [el-Adli] told us that Egyptian police had killed arms smugglers trying to transfer weapons from Sudan into Egypt,” it added.
Last year, Israel bombed a convoy of Iranian weapons in Sudan which, according to media reports citing US officials, was destined for Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza.
Iran and Egypt severed ties in 1980 after Iran’s Islamic revolution and Egypt’s recognition of Israel. They are still at odds over issues such as the Middle East peace process and ties with Israel and the US.
Egypt is also at odds with Iran for continuing to praise Khaled Islamboli, who assassinated Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1981 following the peace deal with Israel.
In April, Egypt convicted 26 men it said were linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, accusing them of planning attacks in Egypt.
Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, called the verdicts “political and unjust”, and Iran, for its part, has said its backing for Hezbollah is merely political.