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Analyst Reva Bhalla explains the regional consequences of the escalating violence in Israel and what this means for Iran and Egypt.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
A bombing struck a bus station in central Jerusalem on Tuesday wounding 34 people and killing one other. This apparent escalation by at least some Palestinian factions raises the potential for another military campaign by Israel in the Palestinian territories. This not only could produce another crisis for Egypt, but could also play to Iranian interests in the region.
This quite rare Jerusalem attack comes on the heels of a barrage of rocket attacks coming from Gaza Strip into population centers in southern Israel and the Negev Desert. It also comes a little less than two weeks after a particularly gruesome attack on a family in the West Bank in the Itamar settlement. We are clearly seeing an escalation by at least some Palestinian factions against Israel. Now who is actually behind the attacks is much less clear. Often you will find that a lot of groups will use contradicting claims and denials and new names to deliberately confuse the Israel security intelligence apparatus. Some of the more recent rocket attacks from Gaza were claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which out of all the Palestinian militant groups is the closest to Iran.
We therefore need to put this latest attack in regional context. The killings in the West Bank were intentionally designed to provoke the Israelis. The Israelis, however, refused to be provoked. Then we saw a barrage of rocket attacks coming from Gaza now coordinated with an attack on a bus station in central Jerusalem.
This now could produce an enormous crisis for Egypt. The Egyptian government, now led by the military, is in a very delicate position in trying to manage this political transition at home while now also trying to deal with a war next door in Libya. On top of that, we’re seeing an escalation in the Palestinian territories, and whenever you have an Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip, which now seems very possible, you have an influx of refugees from Gaza into the Sinai Peninsula. That creates a security crisis on the Egyptians and the Egyptians often have to clamp down on the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and the Sinai.
This could allow Hamas in the Gaza Strip and, crucially, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is the main opposition group in Egypt, to condemn the Egyptian military-led government and escalate anti-Israeli sentiment. That in turn could endanger the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, and this is a dynamic that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood couldn’t really capitalize on during the recent crisis, but it could do so now, especially if you have an Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip under the current circumstances.
When going beyond the Palestinian territories, we have a situation where the Iranians are pursuing a covert destabilization campaign in the Persian Gulf region, using Shia unrest to destabilize the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in particular. When looking at the unrest overall in the region, the one key ingredient that was missing was Israel. Israel is often the single unifying call for many on the Arab streets, and that is certainly something that a lot of Palestinian factions will be paying attention to right now. Watch for groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and others in the region to escalate attacks in an effort to provoke a military confrontation with Israeli forces, create a crisis for Egypt through the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and threaten Israel on multiple fronts. This is something that could well play to the Iranian agenda and escalate the regional unrest overall.