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Jeffrey F Collins

Geopolitical realignments in the Middle East

Strange happenings in the Middle East these days. While it may be tempting to view the current spate of violence between Israel and Hamas as a simple but brutal binary exchange, the relative silence of many Arab governments in not condemning Israel speaks to a larger regional power realignment. Such a shift goes to some length in explaining why any long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future. In particular, both the Arab-Iranian and Sunni-Shia fissures can largely explain why Hamas initiated the fighting last month. With its bloody eviction of the rival Palestinian Authority (PA) from Gaza in 2007, Hamas has had to rely on two primary funding sources for its military capabilities and quasi-governance: Iran and the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing. With Shia-majority Iran, Hamas had a longstanding supporter in arms and finances. In a classic example of realpolitik, Tehran backed the Sunni-based Hamas in order to exert regional influence over its Arab neighbours. Iran even included the group among its ominous ‘Axis of Resistance’ network; pitching Hamas alongside such luminaries as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. But this all changed with the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’. Syria’s Alawite-minority government, a sub-sect of Shia Islam, received Tehran’s backing in its war against the Sunni-majority rebels sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Shia Hezbollah, formally aligned with Hamas in mutual hatred of Israel has also taken the side of al-Assad, becoming the dictator’s ‘shock troops’ in a conflict that has claimed at least 190,000 lives. Feeling the need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its sectarian brethren, Hamas eventually broke ranks with Iran and Hezbollah, abandoning its political headquarters in Syria for Qatar. This left the militants with having to rely on taxing the Gaza-Egypt border crossing and income derived from smuggling tunnels. This… Read More