Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Autumn fury

Ahmed Eleiba discusses Iran, Israel and the crisis threatening to overtake the region

In a new tactical development in the Iranian-Israeli conflict, a pilotless aircraft entered Israeli airspace and continued circling for some 30 minutes before being shot down. Causing alarm and terror on the ground below, the drone penetrated 100 kilometres into Israel, eventually flying over military bases and installations in the Negev military zone: the area is where Israel's notorious Daydamona nuclear reactors are situated, together with one of the US's radar stations. Connected with intelligence gathering centres in the UK and Turkey, this high security complex is guarded solely by US security and is essentially a separate American military zone inside the Israeli military zone.

Israeli officials had hoped to capture the aircraft in a working state so that they could better examine it; they were unable to. Several hours later, having identified it as an old Russian-made plane that may have been used in combat before Iran obtained it, they were accusing Hizbullah of sending it. Al-Ahram Weekly phoned Khidr Nureddin of Hizbullah's political bureau for his views on the matter; he refused to discuss the subject. Silence does nothing to dispel the cloud of suspicion. A few days after the incident, a Palestinian young man was arrested in Israel and charged with spying for Hizbullah. According to Mossad, Mohamed Milad, an Arab Israeli citizen, confessed he had been recruited three years ago by a Lebanese intermediary who lived in Denmark and that he had, indeed, furnished him with military intelligence.

Iranian officials have not been silent. If they did not comment on the Israeli accusation, they did remark that Israeli air defences were ineffective, as proven by the drone's ability to penetrate Israeli airspace. There followed a spate of Iranian statements to the effect that Israel could be destroyed within 24 hours and that a war between Tel Aviv and Tehran would leave 10,000 Israelis dead. In a telephone interview with the Weekly, the Lebanese political analyst Asaad Haidar said Tehran had volunteered to speak for Hizbullah because Hizbullah fears exposing Lebanon to another Israeli assault. "We are seeing some field tests and some muscle flexing, but I believe the ultimate objective is to ward off war rather than to court it," he said. "Every side now has the ability to scare the other. If they are showing that they have equal offensive capacities, they are saying that war will destroy both sides, not just one."

Cairo may not have paid close attention to the repercussions of the shooting down of the aircraft, but according to military expert Brigadier-General Safwat Al-Zayat, it should. "The region has entered the cyber era, or the remote-control age," Al-Zayat said, referring to the drone incident "on the other side of our eastern border. It is presumed that this was an Iranian Shahd 202 aircraft that took off from southern Lebanon because Iran is too far away. US radars picked up its signal the moment it took off, which is why blame was levelled at Hizbullah. These phenomena are characteristic of space wars... What we should be asking ourselves in Egypt is how the president should act in conditions of this sort or under similar developments, such as the satellites hovering over the region and ultrasonic radars monitoring the movements of aircraft. Although Washington is not ready for another war in the region, even if certain regional parties are pushing for it, we should bear in mind Kissinger's remarks in response to the 'red lines' that Netanyahu drew in the UN several weeks ago. Kissinger said, 'We [the US] are the ones who set the lines, not others,' meaning that the US will not be coerced into decisions against its interests. Still, we too should be asking ourselves in Egypt whether we are following world politics closely enough?"

An Egyptian reading of the situation should also take into account the recent arrival of US military officers in Israel in preparation for major joint military exercises this month. According to a recent report in Yediot Aharanot, "Austere Challenge 12," as the manoeuvres are called, will include simulated missile strikes from various directions to test Israeli air defence capacities against such missiles. The drills, which are expected to last three weeks, will also explore emergency cooperation between the two sides.

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