- By Suzanne MerkelsonSuzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.
Newly instated Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman has been a longtime favorite of Israel, according to new WikiLeaks cables released Monday. The cables reveal snippets from a strategic partnership that is often fraught with differences, but mostly sharing of similar concerns, among them Gaza, Iran, and terrorism. The revelations seem particularly notable in the context of ongoing turmoil in Egypt, where protestors are calling for Mubarak to step down. The United States is now backing Suleiman as a leader of a transition government — something that, according to the recently released cables, should help quell Isreali anxiety.
In a cable dated August 29, 2008, David Hacham, a senior adviser to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, told U.S. diplomats about Barak’s visit to Egypt earlier that month, calling it a success. While Hacham said the Israelis were "shocked" by President Hosni Mubarak’s "aged appearance and slurred speech," they had only nice things to say about Suleiman, then head of Egypt’s foreign intelligence service. Israel and Suleiman were apparently quite close, a relationship built through the daily use of a hot line set up between the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Suleiman’s office. And even as most of the world expected Mubarak’s son, Gamal, to be his successor, the Israelis had different thoughts, according to the cable:
Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated. (Note: We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.)
With Egypt eager to position itself as a leader in the Middle East, Suleiman also apparently took a keen interest in the Israel-Palestinian negotiations, according to a different 2008 cable. He told a U.S. Congressional delegation that he was optimistic about the situation between Egypt’s neighbors, but stressed his concern over "continuing Israeli criticism of Egyptian anti-smuggling efforts."
According to the cable, the timing for Israeli-Palestinian progress was right, in 2008, for four reasons:
First, the PA leadership is moderate and willing to negotiate. Second, Hamas is isolated and politically cut off in Gaza. Third, the Israelis are ready for peace; Soliman assessed that the GOI coalition is broad and strong, and larger than Rabin’s coalition of the mid-nineties. Fourth, Arab states are ready to see an end to "the struggle."
Suleiman said that Egypt wanted to help the United States continue the peace process, recommending steps to continue progress:
First , both the Israelis and Palestinians must be pressed hard to sign an agreement, which the U.S. and international community could endorse, to be implemented at the proper time. Second, the U.S. should insist that "phase one" of the Roadmap should be completed before the end of 2008.