An Egyptian intelligence officer quietly placed phone calls to the hosts of several influential talk shows in Egypt as President Trump moved last month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“Like all our Arab brothers,” Egypt would denounce the decision in public, the officer, Captain Ashraf al-Kholi, told the hosts.
An Egyptian intelligence officer urged a number of prominent talk show hosts in the country to persuade their viewers to accept the US position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the New York Times reported.
In four audio recordings obtained by the New York Times , Captain Ashraf al-Kholi reportedly told the hosts that conflict with Israel is not in Egypt’s national interest.
He suggested that Palestinians should content themselves with the West Bank town that houses the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah. “How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” he asked each time.
Still, Captain Kholi was quoted as saying: “We, like all our Arab brothers, are denouncing this matter.”
In fact, powerful Arab states including Egypt and Saudi Arabia have publicly criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians for decades while privately acquiescing to Israel’s continued occupation of territory the Palestinians claim as their homeland, the New York Times mentioned.
Moreover, “Now, a de facto alliance against shared foes such as Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State (IS) militants and the Arab Spring uprisings is drawing the Arab leaders into an ever-closer collaboration with their one-time nemesis, Israel, producing especially stark juxtapositions between their posturing in public and private,” according to the Times.
Kholi was quoted as adding: “After that, this thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist, and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate as you know.”
Egypt for several years has been battling an IS insurgency in the Sinai in which militants have killed hundreds of soldiers and police officers.
While Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said that his country regretted Trump’s decision, which will “complicate the peace process,” Egypt’s relations with Israel are based on military and intelligence interests unrelated to the Palestinian issue or Jerusalem’s status, Haaretz newspaper said on its website.
Last year, local Egyptian outlets reported that Egypt’s intelligence agencies were behind a takeover of several media groups and advertising agencies in a bid to manipulate the Egyptian public opinion.
In the same context, the NY Times reported that King Salman of Saudi Arabia, arguably the most influential Arab state, also publicly denounced Trump’s decision. Still, the kingdom had already quietly signaled its acquiescence or even tacit approval of the Israeli claim to Jerusalem, the Times said.
According to the NY Times, all the Egyptian TV hosts did as Kholi asked and most publications affiliated with Egypt’s government were equally muted about US President Donald Trump’s announcement in early December.
One of the four talk show hosts on the recordings, Azmi Megahed, confirmed that the conversation occurred. “Mr Megahed, in an interview, said that he had agreed with Captain Kholi based on his personal assessment of the need to avoid a fresh outbreak of violence, not on the orders of the intelligence service,” the NY Times said.
One host denied participating in such a conversation and another backed out of a planned interview. The Times was not able to reach the fourth host.
Two spokesmen for the Egyptian government did not respond to requests for comment for the article, the Times said, and Captain Kholi could not be reached.