Analysis: Tehran has its own agenda in Gaza

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, December 31, 2008
Iranians take to the streets for an anti-Israel demonstration in Tehran

Iranians take to the streets for an anti-Israel demonstration in Tehran

Beyond the immediate objective of restoring calm to Israel’s south, there are four additional reasons for Israel’s operation.

First, there is the criminal nature of the Hamas government in Gaza, which has done all in its power to harm its own population. Hamas has turned Gazans into human shields, behind whom it hides its military infrastructure. And it has prioritised ‘resistance’ to Israeli ‘occupation’ — presumably of Israel itself — over improving the daily lives of Gazans.

Anyone who still thinks that Islamists, once in power, will, out of necessity, choose pragmatism over ideology, should look no further than Gaza as proof of how wrong that notion is.

Secondly, Hamas’ choice of conflict over accommodation has not only cost lives and economic stability in Gaza, it has also killed an already moribund peace process. Hamas’ behaviour has triggered war after it had blocked peace. Peace can get a second chance only with Hamas out of the way.

Thirdly, the growth of an Islamic republic on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean poses a direct threat to the stability of Egypt and Jordan. Defeating Hamas serves the key Western interest of preserving the stability of moderate Arab regimes committed to the peace process and coexistence with Israel.

Fourthly, Hamas’ military build-up in the Strip is not only designed to serve Palestinian rejectionism and Islamic fundamentalism. Hamas is trained, equipped and financed by Iran. Iran has become the main supplier of weapons to Hamas. It has trained Hamas fighters, both in Iran and in Gaza. Iran’s revolutionary guards are believed to have a presence in Gaza.

Hamas’ rockets are thus aimed not only at Israel; they also serve Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. By fomenting Hamas’ violence and feeding into its growing Islamist practices, Iran kills two birds with one stone: it poses a further military challenge to its ideological bane, Israel, and keeps open the chance of a pincer movement against the Zionist enemy by activating simultaneously its two proxies, Hamas and Hizbollah. And it poses a direct challenge to the internal stability and influence of Egypt, its main adversary in the quest for regional hegemony — and previously the main powerbroker in the Gaza Strip.

The current conflict is thus the latest instalment in a regional confrontation pitching Iran against Israel and Western-backed moderate Arab regimes.

Iran’s efforts to destabilise every potential conflict point — Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan all bear Iran’s murderous fingerprints — must be halted, for Iran’s goals are diametrically opposed to Western goals of peace, stability and security in the region. If Hamas were left to thrive in Gaza, it would ultimately become a launching pad for Iran’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and would make Iran an indispensable interlocutor in any crisis. And, be clear: Iran’s solutions would not square well with what Israel and the West hope to achieve in the area.

A Hamas defeat thus serves multiple purposes: not just restoring calm to Israel’s south but also removing the principle obstacle to peace negotiations, and giving a black eye to Iran.

Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi is executive director of the Transatlantic Institute and author of the forthcoming “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb” (Profile Books)

Last updated: 2:27pm, November 8 2010