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Cairo Joins the Battle Against Tehran

In June 2009, an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine sailed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via Egypt’s Suez Canal. Given the 30-year peace between the states, Israeli vessels in the canal — even submarines — wouldn’t ordinarily make headlines. But the submarines and the Israeli SAAR V class warships that passed through Egypt a few weeks later were big news in the region, a stark reminder that as Iranian centrifuges continue to spin, the deadline for Israeli military action is fast approaching. The movement of the sub — a ship believed to carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles — was an unmistakable Israeli warning to Tehran.

These latest naval deployments also suggest that the warning to Iran extends beyond the Israelis. By granting canal access to the warships now, Cairo too is signaling its concern. In fact, lately Egypt’s Mubarak regime has been demonstrating an increasingly public identification with the nascent coalition against Iran. For years Egypt was silent as a militant and emboldened Tehran usurped Cairo’s traditional regional leadership role. But recent developments — including unprecedented public strategic cooperation with Israel — suggest that Cairo has finally joined the campaign against Tehran.

Egypt’s awakening should be a welcome development in Washington and is sure to be on the agenda when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets President Obama in the White House on August 17.

Relations between Cairo and Tehran have been tense for decades. In the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Egypt provided asylum to the deposed shah, and when he succumbed to cancer in 1980, he was feted with a state funeral by President Sadat. Tehran severed ties with Cairo in 1979 when it made peace with Israel, and when Sadat — who signed the treaty — was assassinated in 1981 by Khalid Islambouli, Iran returned the favor, naming a street after the killer. A giant mural of Islambouli remains on display in Tehran to this day.

In January 2008, a flurry of senior-level contacts between the states — including a phone call between Mubarak and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — seemed to portend a warming of relations. But this effort fizzled quickly.

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