Though small in time and scale – and relatively inconsequential in the large Middle East picture – the eight-day Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip had a disproportionally large transformational effect on the strategic stature of certain world powers, starting with the United States under a second-term president.
America’s restoration to the Middle East premier league by the Gaza conflagration appears to have enthused President Barack Obama for tackling Syria and then Iran.
Israel’s policymaking trio, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli Mossad chief Tamir Pardo is the unseen key team member), are breathing a deep sigh of relief. Four years of bitter wrangling with President Obama over Iran and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a result of the Arab Spring have suddenly made way to understanding and amiable working relations between Obama and Netanyahu.
Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood rule is restored by the Gaza conflict to center stage in the Arab world. For the first time, the MB movement of the largest Arab state is cooperating through President Mohamed Morsi with Washington and Jerusalem to shape a new pro-Western policy concept as a model for future stages of the Arab Revolt in other Arab countries.
US wins, Iran and Russia are pushed down
Iran looks like the big loser from the brief Gaza confrontation. The Palestinian enclave and Hamas have been torn out of its ambit. Even the Palestinian Jihad Islami, groomed by Tehran for its eventual role as a second Hizballah for the Gaza Strip and Egypt, may also be slipping out of its control.
Russia, which just before the US presidential election two weeks ago was cast as President Obama's senior partner in what was called the “Grand Bargain” for the Middle East and Persian Gulf, was pushed by the Gaza operation to the fringes of Middle East hustle and bustle. President Vladimir Putin finds himself marooned on the same shore as Iran and Syria, both of which Obama now proposes to tackle.
How could these extreme transformations have taken place in eight short yet fateful days? Can the unforeseen alliance between Obama, Morsi and Netanyahu hold? And do these happenings touch on the sudden resignation of David Petraeus as CIA Director?
The opening article of this issue details how Iran developed its military and intelligence ties with Hamas from September, block by block. The fulcrums were two Hamas figures – Mahmoud a-Zahar, a member of the Hamas political leadership, and the late Ahmed al-Jabari, commander of the Hamas military wing and operations chief of the Ezz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, whose death led off Israel’s Gaza operation.
Adopting a pro-Iran orientation, this pair gambled on Tehran’s emergence as Middle East top dog. They decided to guarantee Hamas’s future in the Palestinian movement and the Muslim Brotherhood movements of Egypt and Jordan by hauling the Gaza Strip into Iran’s sphere of influence.
This process was advancing at a rapid pace. Had it not been curtailed, Iran would soon have gained a solid foothold in the Gaza Strip, ready to partly compensate itself for the inevitable loss of the Syrian power base after Bashar Assad’s inescapable departure.
Gaza would also have been Tehran’s gateway to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, where the Brotherhood is dominated by Palestinian Hamas adherents.
Assuring Hizballah a safe berth after Assad’s fall
Tehran was also concerned to assure Hizballah of a safe landing after Assad’s departure in the weeks or months ahead. Hizballah was already well entrenched in the Gaza Strip as an accepted military and clandestine force under the aegis of Hamas’s pro-Iran faction. Gaza was destined by Iran to be Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah’s fallback base of operation and save him from being isolated by the fall of his close ally, Bashar Assad.
Looking at the wider Muslim picture, Iran’s success in winning Hamas over would have been an important step towards consummating the fundamental aspiration of Iran’s 1979 Shiite revolution: to seize key positions from Sunni Islam and diminish its domination of the Muslim world.
This aspiration was taken into consideration when the undercover steps in preparation for Israel’s Gaza operation were set in motion by President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Egyptian President Morsi, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Qatar's Emir Al-Thani.
A separate article reviews the secret war behind the Gaza operation.