The American Kafir


The Israel Factor in Regional Unrest

Source Link: Stratfor

A bombing at a bus station in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday killed one person and injured 34 others. The bombing follows more than 60 mortar shells and rockets fired into the Israeli Negev since Saturday. Less than two weeks prior, several Israeli family members were stabbed to death at their home in a West Bank settlement.

Taken together, these events indicate that at least some Palestinian factions are attempting to provoke the Israeli military into a confrontation. The timing would make sense, too. With unrest threatening to knock the legs out from under Arab regimes across the region, the one crisis that has been missing from this picture is Israel. Opposition to Israel is the single most unifying cry in the Arab street. Add to that the growing condemnations of corrupt Arab despots, many of whom are viewed as hypocrites for dealing with Israel in the first place, and the Palestinians have a powerful banner with which to rally the region toward their cause.

The strikingly violent nature of the recent West Bank attack appeared to have been designed to provoke the Israelis into action. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, already under enormous pressure to hold together a fragile coalition, refrained from taking the bait. In fact, before the Jerusalem attack, Netanyahu was on his way to Moscow, where he was rumored to have plans to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to reinvigorate peace talks and apply pressure on Abbas to keep his constituency in line.

But Abbas doesn’t speak for the Palestinian militant landscape, and growing demands within Israel for a second act to the 2008 Operation Cast Lead invasion of Gaza are now drowning out calls for a peace initiative. Therefore, an Israeli military intervention in the Palestinian territories could be in the cards; only this time, the implications go well beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Egypt’s military-led government has much to lose from another round of fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians. This explains why a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry was so quick to call on Israel to “exercise restraint” and warned against “rushing into a military operation in Gaza, which will only lead to more tension.”

“Growing demands within Israel for a second act to the 2008 Operation Cast Lead invasion of Gaza are now drowning out calls for a peace initiative.”

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt is already in a very delicate position in trying to manage a political transition at home and resuscitate the economy, while dealing with a war taking place next door in Libya. The last thing it needs is a crisis on its border with Gaza that will once again pressure the Egyptian government to clamp down on the Rafah border crossing through which refugees, supplies and food pass daily. Whenever this occurs, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt seize the opportunity to inflame anti-Israeli sentiment and cast the Egyptian government in a very uncomfortable, hypocritical light for not wholeheartedly supporting the resistance. This is a dynamic that could place the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in jeopardy, while providing the Muslim Brotherhood with the fodder it needs to come out from under the military’s shadow. This is also a dynamic that caters extremely well to the Iranians.

The Iranians have cast themselves as the true vanguard of Islamic resistance against Israel, in contrast to the Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian and other Arab regimes, which, despite occasional fiery rhetoric to the contrary, have their own strategic interests in quietly cooperating with Israel to keep the Palestinians contained. Iran has also been pursuing a covert destabilization campaign, using a groundswell of Shiite unrest to threaten the Sunni Arab monarchies in eastern Arabia. The Saudis made an overt move in trying to block Iranian interference in its immediate neighborhood through the deployment of forces to Bahrain. Despite the relative quiet in Bahrain since the Saudi deployment, signs of unrest are simmering again — there are compounding fears among Gulf Cooperation Council states that Iran has more covert assets at its disposal to ignite a fresh wave of protests and sectarian clashes.

The Jerusalem attack raises a question of whether Iran would choose to go beyond its activities in the Persian Gulf region and activate its militant proxies in the Levant, specifically Hezbollah in Lebanon and groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others in the Palestinian territories to threaten Israel from multiple sides. The resumption of militant strikes is still in its early stages, but it is clearly escalating. Given the current dynamics of the region, it is doubtful that these attacks are spontaneous. Whether they’re linked to a broader strategic campaign operating from Tehran is a matter for investigation.


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