The new vice-president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is a long-standing favourite of Israel’s who spoke daily to the Tel Aviv government via a secret “hotline” to Cairo, leaked documents disclose.
Mr Suleiman, who is widely tipped to take over from Hosni Mubarak as president, was named as Israel’s preferred candidate for the job after discussions with American officials in 2008.
As a key figure working for Middle East peace, he once suggested that Israeli troops would be “welcome” to invade Egypt to stop weapons being smuggled to Hamas terrorists in neighbouring Gaza.
The details, which emerged in secret files obtained by WikiLeaks and passed to The Daily Telegraph, come after Mr Suleiman began talks with opposition groups on the future for Egypt’s government.
On Saturday, Mr Suleiman won the backing of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to lead the “transition” to democracy after two weeks of demonstrations calling for President Mubarak to resign.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, spoke to Mr Suleiman yesterday and urged him to take “bold and credible steps” to show the world that Egypt is embarking on an “irreversible, urgent and real” transition.
Leaked cables from American embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv disclose the close co-operation between Mr Suleiman and the US and Israeli governments as well as diplomats’ intense interest in likely successors to the ageing President Mubarak, 83.
The documents highlight the delicate position which the Egyptian government seeks to maintain in Middle East politics, as a leading Arab nation with a strong relationship with the US and Israel. By 2008, Mr Suleiman, who was head of the foreign intelligence service, had become Israel’s main point of contact in the Egyptian government.
David Hacham, a senior adviser from the Israeli Ministry of Defence, told the American embassy in Tel Aviv that a delegation led by Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak had been impressed by Mr Suleiman, whose name is spelled “Soliman” in some cables.
But Mr Hacham was “shocked” by President Mubarak’s “aged appearance and slurred speech”.
The cable, from August 2008, said: “Hacham was full of praise for Soliman, however, and noted that a ‘hot line’ set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use.
“Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated.” The Tel Aviv diplomats added: “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.”
Elsewhere the documents disclose that Mr Suleiman was stung by Israeli criticism of Egypt’s inability to stop arms smugglers transporting weapons to Palestinian militants in Gaza. At one point he suggested that Israel send troops into the Egyptian border region of Philadelphi to “stop the smuggling”.
“In their moments of greatest frustration, [Egyptian Defence Minister] Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] would be ‘welcome’ to re-invade Philadelphi, if the IDF thought that would stop the smuggling,” the cable said.
The files suggest that Mr Suleiman wanted Hamas “isolated”, and thought Gaza should “go hungry but not starve”.
“We have a short time to reach peace,” he told US diplomats. “We need to wake up in the morning with no news of terrorism, no explosions, and no news of more deaths.”
Yesterday, Hosni Mubarak’s control of Egypt’s state media, a vital lynchpin of his 30-year presidency, started to slip as the country’s largest-circulation newspaper declared its support for the uprising.
Hoping to sap the momentum from street protests demanding his overthrow, the president has instructed his deputy to launch potentially protracted negotiations with secular and Islamist opposition parties. The talks continued for a second day yesterday without yielding a significant breakthrough.
But Mr Mubarak was dealt a significant setback as the state-controlled Al-Ahram, Egypt’s second oldest newspaper and one of the most famous publications in the Middle East, abandoned its long-standing slavish support for the regime.
In a front-page leading article, the newspaper hailed the “nobility” of the “revolution” and demanded the government embark on irreversible constitutional and legislative changes.