LAST MONTH, Egypt broke up what it called a terrorist cell linked to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite militia. Nine captured suspects were charged with spying for Hezbollah, working for a foreign state, and seeking to harm Egypt's national security. The arrests were attention-grabbers. But even more astonishing were the public denunciations of Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, issued by President Hosni Mubarak.
The incident cast light on what is becoming the central rift in the Middle East, pitting Sunni Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco against Iran, its allies Syria and Qatar, its proxy Hezbollah, and the Palestinian movement Hamas. As President Obama develops policies for Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he cannot ignore this reality.
In a speech, Mubarak plainly accused Iran and its agents of trying to harm Egypt's security. "We will not allow any interference by foreign forces . . . who push the region towards hell out of a desire to spread their influence and their agenda on the Arab world," he said.
No less revealing was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's public admission that he had sponsored an operation in Egypt. He justified this extension of Hezbollah's reach into another Arab country by saying the operation's targets were meant to be Israeli.
Egyptian officials disputed this, saying the conspirators had been scouting targets not only at tourist sites in the Sinai and Cairo but also in the Suez Canal. Since tourism and maritime traffic through the Suez account for Egypt's two main revenue sources, Egyptian authorities asserted that Hezbollah, with its intimate connections to Iranian intelligence, was acting to further Iran's aim of destabilizing its rivals and making itself the region's dominant power.
As Obama readies for dialogue with Iran, he will need to know that Iran's nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq's internecine tensions, and Lebanon's power struggles are not the only issues to be resolved.