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Iran’s Support of Hamas Unnerves Egypt

New America Media, Commentary, Jalal Ghazi Posted: Jan 01, 2009

Editor’s Note: Iran’s full-throated defense of Hamas in the attack on Gaza is unnerving Arab states like Egypt and for good reason, writes NAM contributor Jalal Ghazi.

The Israeli attack on Gaza has shown a new face of Iran in the Gulf region that is unnerving many Arab states. Traditionally Iran has supported oppressed Shiite minorities in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen and Lebanon, not only to empower them but also as a way to spread its creed of political Islam.

This time, however, Iran is actually supporting Hamas, which is an extremist Sunni organization. In doing so, Iran is bolstering its claim that its political brand of Islam does not have to be limited to Shiite groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Huti supporters in Yemen or the Sadrists in Iraq.

But the subtext of the message is even more worrisome to "moderate" Arab states like Egypt. If Hamas can establish itself as a viable and more successful model in resisting Israeli oppression than the Palestinian Authority headed by U.S.-backed Mahmoud Abbas, then why can’t the Muslim Brotherhood do the same in Egypt?

Ironically, U.S. policy may have thrown Hamas into the hands of Iran. As Arab regimes were forced to stop aid to Hamas under American pressure, Hamas sought the help of Iran and thus became influenced by it.

Whether the influence extends to arms supplies is up for debate, though Israel is alleging that Iran is sending explosives and rockets to Gaza through a network of tunnels. But it is obvious that Iran and Hezbollah have been transferring their know-how to Hamas in Gaza.

It is true that so far Hamas’ missiles have been primitive, but they have been improving defiantly in range and potency. On Dec. 30, Hamas struck Ashdod only 25 miles south of Tel Aviv, killing one woman and wounding five other people. This is the deepest target into Israeli territory that Hamas has been able to reach yet.

But the threat of Hamas is not limited to Israel. The stability of the Egyptian regime is also at stake.

On Dec. 28, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, addressing hundreds of thousands of Lebanese supporters, bluntly called on the Egyptian public and army officers to take matters into their own hands if the Egyptian government refused to open the Rafah border crossing despite the dire situation in Gaza.

“Let the Egyptian people take to the streets in the millions. Can the Egyptian police arrest millions of Egyptians? No! They cannot!” said Nasrallah. “People of Egypt, you must open the Rafah crossing with your bare hands if you must.” Synopses of Nasrallah's speeches were broadcast throughout the day on Al Alam, another Tehran-based 24-hour Arabic news channel, along with gruesome images of Palestinian casualties.

Nasrallah’s message was in tune with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Press TV, a 24-hour English news channel based in Tehran, cited Khamenei as strongly criticizing the role of Egypt. “Instead of standing up to Israeli war crimes and defending innocent Gazans, some Muslim leaders have paved the way for Tel Aviv to commit these crimes against humanity," he said.

Egypt was also singled out in another program on Al Alam called Gaza Under Fire. Arab viewers called in from all over the world, often accusing the Egyptian government of collaborating with Israel against Hamas.

“What the Egyptian government and its President Mubarak is doing will go down in history as a shameful act that will never be washed away,” said a Saudi Arabian viewer named Abdullah in a fax sent to the program. One Egyptian caller said, “The Egyptian people are sympathetic with the Palestinian people in Gaza but they are not allowed do anything.” He continued, “I would like to tell Arab rulers, your time is about to end.” The program went on for hours and gave a platform to Muhammad Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which poses the strongest opposition to the Egyptian government. Akef called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Egypt and an end to deals with Zionists.

Without a doubt, the 18-month siege that has been imposed by Israel on Gaza would not work without Egypt’s cooperation in keeping the borders closed. But if Egypt had hoped that harsh conditions would cause Palestinians to turn away from Hamas, that has not come true.

Instead, it’s the Egyptian government that has faced Arab wrath for keeping the Rafah border crossing closed except for extreme emergencies like transporting the critically injured. In fact, Egyptian embassies already have been subjected to attacks by angry Arab protesters in Libya, Yemen and Lebanon. According to Al Arabiya, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki acknowledged that angry Yemeni protesters stormed the Egyptian consulate in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Tuesday. Al Jazeera reported that more than half a million Egyptians demonstrated across Egypt.

Iran is trying to hit two birds with one stone. First it is trying to create a situation similar to that in South Lebanon, where Hamas would take the role of Hizbollah. Second it is using the Israeli attack on Gaza to delegitimize the regimes of “moderate” Arab countries especially Egypt. By achieving these two things, Iran will ultimately strengthen its regional role. The question is what is in it for the Palestinians of Gaza?

Related Articles:

Hamas is Not Iran's Puppet

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