It was naive to assume that last week’s Israel-Palestine military tension in Gaza would end up in a peaceful resolution. Neither was it meant to herald a wider Israel-Arab confrontation. Nevertheless, it was an important event to analyze for at least two reasons. It has clarified the positions that some of the regional powers hold on Israel in the first place, and it has certainly continued to expose more clearly where the rest of the world powers stand. Secondly, with the current Arab Spring spirit still being in flux, the Gaza tension could yet become a catalyst of a broader political crisis in the region, with a possibility of forging another wave of civil unrest, as well as of tempting regional powers to use it for their own benefit.
The details of the cease-fire agreement proposed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Egyptian foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr on November 21, remain unclear. What is certain however, is the smell of an anti-Israel flavor in the air across the Muslim world coming from Sunni Islamists.
Egypt, with its President Mohamed Morsi, showed the sharpest reaction by recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv after it became known that an Israeli air strike killed Ahmed Jabari of the Islamic Hamas group. Officials in Ankara said that Israel’s operation against Gaza was the latest example of the country’s hostile policies. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan used words of condemnation on Friday, calling Israel’s strikes on Gaza atrocious. When asked how the incident would affect Turkish-Israeli relations, Erdogan replied on Friday: “Which relations are you talking about? We don’t have any relations.”
Additionally, the Arab Spring itself could become a unifying factor for Arabs against Israel for it raised national dignity issues. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said that the cruelty in Gaza should unite Muslims. Nevertheless, Iranian officials did not comment on allegations that Iran had supplied Hamas with Fajr-5 rockets, which were fired at Tel Aviv. At the same time, Ali Larijani, Iran’s Speaker of Parliament, urged Arab states to follow Iran’s example of providing military support to Palestinians. According to Larijani, Iran regards the Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip as organized terrorism. He adds: “We are honored that our help has material and military aspects and these Arab countries that sit and hold meetings should know that the nation of Palestine does not need words or meetings.”
The Jordanian authorities might also decide to encourage atrocities against Israel by way of distracting their own population from the government’s failures. They may want to restore relations with Hamas because the latter is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has gained momentum around the Arab world by forming new governments.
In October 2012, Qatari officials showed their support to Hamas by pledging $400 million for Gaza’s infrastructure, a gesture which was welcomed by the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya and criticized by the allies of the Palestinian Authority for having set a dangerous precedent in the Arab world by embracing the leader of Hamas as the head of a Palestinian state.
With the support of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, Hamas is clearly demonstrating its strength. This is an indication of how the region has changed since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. For most of the Western world and moderates in the Middle East, the news should be alarming. By getting widespread regional support, Hamas is likely to become an Iranian tool to destabilize Israel and its allies from within. Having said that, the opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be no less alarmed, as his victory in the upcoming parliamentary election in a couple of months becomes highly feasible. Doubtless, Israel and Iran will then remain on a collision course. What will Mr. Larijani and his allies say then?