Israel, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip (CNN)One thing that I consider a very positive development is the Egyptian and French participation in the negotiations to secure the release of the kidnapped soldier. I do not know how long they will maintain their involvement, but it can only be welcomed.
The Egyptians realize that an escalation in the Gaza Strip is not in their interest. My guess is that Mubarak wants to avoid a repeat of the mass demonstrations that broke out in Cairo at the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. When I was in Cairo more than a year ago, the intifada seemed to be a little less on the minds of Egyptians. I do recall passing through one village saturated with fading posters of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (by then dead) on my way to a Coptic Monastery outside of Cairo. Another good reason for the Egyptians to get involved in Gaza is that not doing so will bite them in the behind at some point. At least one of the bombers involved in the terrorist attacks from Dahab was from the Gaza Strip or received his explosives there, from what I recall. I have never understood why the Egyptian security forces are not cracking down harder on the rampant smuggling of weapons and other goods (including prostitutes) from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip often via a network of tunnels. Perhaps economic considerations are part of it: I did not get the impression that the economy of the Sinai, except for the tourist resorts, is doing very well. Maybe the economy of the northern Sinai depends on the revenue derived from smuggling and the authorities simply do not want to rock the boat too much and turn a blind eye to what is going on. It's clear that smuggling is a major business.
An article by Doron Almog, published in Summer 2004 in the Middle East Quarterly (XI:3) says that the smuggling networks involved extend all the way to the Nile Delta and probably involve the Muslim Brotherhood and other sympathizers of the Palestinian struggle. Writing in 2004, Almog accused the Egyptian government of failing to crack down on cross-border smuggling in order to support the Palestinian "resistance" and in order to channel the energies of local extremists elsewhere. I really wonder if the Egyptians have changed their perspective since the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and since the rise of Hamas. After all, Hamas is a movement that the Egyptian regime, which totally supressed the Muslim Brotherhood in the last parliamentary elections, does not like and does not want to strengthen.