The Mubarak Myth

Since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power, there has grown a media image of the former Egyptian dictator as a close friend and reliable security partner of Israel, about to be replaced by an unfriendly Cairo regime that may forge close ties with Hamas and Iran, leaving Israel exposed to new threats on its southern flank.

The second half of this proposition may turn out to be quite real and provides apt reason for concerns in Israel But the first part -- about Mubarak's legacy -- is bogus.

Here's one typical example of how mainstream media draw a sharp contrast between Mubarak's supposedly chummy relations with Israel on the one hand, and a likely anti-Israel stance by his successors:

Washington Post correspondent Michael Birnbaum , writing from Cairo, recalls a Mubarak who "pursued close ties with Israel" with whom he joined in maintaining a "blockade" of Hamas-ruled Gaza ("Egypt is plannng to reopen crossing into Gaza, official says -- Break in blockade would create a new worry for Israel" April 30, page A7).

"Close ties with Israel" under Mubarak? Think again. During his 30-year-rule, Mubarak traveled to Israel just once -- to attend the funeral of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. And even on that visit, he avoided any rapprochement or serious discussions with Israeli leaders, instead hopping on his plane immediately after the funeral to get back to Cairo.

Under Mubarak, Egypt's officially controlled media spewed some of the vilest anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda. Under the peace treaty with Israel, Mubarak held scientific, educational and cultural exchanges to virtually zero.

Disappointed Israelis charitably called it a "cold peace." "Frosty" would have been a more accurate term.

Mubarak's vaunted security collaboration with Israel had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. Yes, Mubarak mostly kept the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza closed once Hamas seized power. But while he put on a good show of boxing in Hamas above ground, he allowed an underground economy, fueled by scores of tunnels large enough for buses and cattle, to flourish. Sporadically, Mubarak made a pretense of intercepting Gaza-bound contraband in the Sinai and plugging up a few tunnels.

But some Gazans became millionaires on Mubarak's watch. Hamas terrorists managed to traverse the Gaza-Eguptian border. So did Gaza-bound war materiel.

The Egyptian "blockade" of Gaza was a porous sieve, more for show than for real.

What the roseate profile of Mubarak overlooks is not only wasn't he another Anwar Sadat. He was the anti-Sadat.. Where Sadat had been a strategic game-changer by going to Israel to lay the groundwork for a peace treaty, Mubarak decided that the safest way to avoid Sadat's fate was to hunker down and to keep ties with Israel to a minimum. Sadat was a daring statesman; Mubarak was a timid bureaucrat, afraid to reach out to Israel and build on Sadat's legacy.

Mubarak's main -- and only -- commendable contribution to Egypt's super-cold ties with Israel was to desist from outright military attacks on the Jewish state. Syrian President Assad has done as much without a peace treaty between Damascus and Jerusalem.

So please spare us the fiction of Mubarak's "close ties with Israel." Yes, his successors may be even worse, but it still remains to be seen exactly how much and what kind of goods they'll allow to cross into Gaza above ground. So far, tunnel operators aren't shutting down their lucrative operations.