In January, Egyptian newspapers reported that the commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, had traveled to Cairo that month to meet with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's aides about setting up a spy service that would answer to Iran and circumvent the Egyptian military. Were the Egyptian people really going to sit back and allow Iran to take over their country?
Imagine a conflict in which American, Egyptian and Israeli intelligence are all on the same side as the Egyptian people, draining the swamp of the Islamic extremists who subverted Egypt's fledgling democratic structures to run a de facto dictatorship and explored the idea of crawling into bed with Iran.
It's not the first time that a recent popular uprising in the region wasn't what it appeared to be on the surface and, on a clandestine level, involved Iranian influence. I suggested in a column last month that the popular protests in Turkey were cover for an Iranian intelligence operation to disrupt the staging base for the Western-backed Syrian opposition. Mossad (Israeli foreign intelligence) chief Tamir Pardo confirmed as much in a Times of Israel article entitled "Mossad head, in Ankara, reveals Iran's anti-Turkish activity." Anyone taking what they were seeing at face value would have mistakenly concluded that the Turkish people had suddenly gotten fed up, en masse, all by themselves.
All that the general public has seen transpiring in Egypt is a massive popular uprising, but what we've most likely been witnessing is a multi-actor counterinsurgency operation that serves a dual purpose: preventing Iran from getting its tentacles into yet another a Western ally, and liquidating extremist Islamic elements under the guise of popular insurgency. It would explain this week's massacre at the Muslim Brotherhood protest that left 51 dead and several hundred injured. A civil war? Or a counterinsurgency operation leveraging the fog of war?
It all follows Pentagon Field Manual 3-24 on counterinsurgency: "With good intelligence, counterinsurgents are like surgeons cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs intact." The COIN (counterinsurgency) principles of minimal/appropriate force and empowerment of the lowest levels, and also the primary objective of legitimacy, are all at play.