Iran’s Role in Israel’s Gaza Dilemma

Considering the role played by Palestinian Islamic Jihad—an Iran-backed organization that operates in Gaza with Hamas’s permission—in the most recent round of combat, Jonathan Spyer writes:

The fighting was triggered by Islamic Jihad snipers’ targeting of IDF personnel on the border area on May 3. Two IDF soldiers—a man and a woman—were wounded. The attack took place against the background of a Hamas-organized border demonstration. Israel’s response was then met by further Hamas missile and rocket attacks.

The ability of Islamic Jihad to heat up the situation on the border is a subject of concern and close attention in Israel. Islamic Jihad, unlike Hamas, is not a largely independent actor with deep roots in Palestinian society. Rather, it is a purely military organization, which from its formation has been closely aligned with Iran. Its current leader, Ziad Nakhala, is based in Syria and is a frequent visitor to Tehran. The movement takes its direction from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Israeli officials consider the recent uptick in Islamic Jihad activity out of Gaza to be part of an Iranian [effort] to draw Israel into a prolonged operation in Gaza, . . . intended to divert attention from the more crucial front to Israel’s north in Syria and Lebanon. In that latter arena, an ongoing, undeclared conflict between Israel and Iran is under way. Iran is seeking to build an infrastructure for future attacks on Israel. Israel is trying to prevent this. Gaza is a mere irritant by comparison.

For Tehran, however, it is a useful irritant. Control and direction of Islamic Jihad is intended to enable Iran to turn the flames in Gaza up or down according to its immediate needs. Israel’s reluctance to be drawn into a long and open-ended campaign in the area should be seen against this larger regional backdrop.

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Read more at Middle East Forum

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israeli Security

 

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy