What a difference four years can make! Almost a week into Operation Pillar of Defense and the Israelis have yet to make the case for the necessity of continuing the attacks on Gaza in order to prevent Iran’s expansion of its influence in the region. No more President Shimon Peres saying, “Our goals are clear. We do not want to make Gaza a satellite of Iran.” No more conceiving of the war against Hamas as a war to check Iran’s ambition and also a push-back, giving Israel and Western allies “a unique chance to deal a strategic blow to Iranian expansionism.”
To be sure, some things have not changed. The imbalance of martial power reflected in callous Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza’s civilian population is still a thorn in global conscience. The collective punishment of Gaza’s population also remains a painful demonstration of Western hypocrisy regarding human rights and dignity. But in comparison to four years ago, the relative silence on Gaza’s connection to Iran or the implications of this war for Iran’s strategic position in the region is hard to miss.
It is possible that I am speaking too soon and, like the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, once the human costs and efficacy of attacks in terms of stated objectives begin to be questioned, the narrative will shift and the argument for sustenance of war, refusal of ceasefire, or the “need for a hard enough blow to Hamas to restore Israel’s deterrence” will shift and Iran will somehow be brought into the equation. Certainly, the reported use of Iranian-made Fajr 5 rockets creates that potential. This piece, for instance, is already forwarding the idea that Iran may not have relinquished its “grip on Hamas” and “reports of the demise of the Axis of Resistance (Iran-Syria-Hamas) may have been greatly exaggerated.”
But there are also reasons to think otherwise. Clearly, the completely changed political landscape of the region has something to do with this. The tragedy in Syria and Hamas’ public break with Iran over the latter’s Syria policy makes it hard to see a hard blow to the former in terms of implications for Iran. But more importantly, it is the changed dynamics of the region that has made Iran irrelevant or of no use at this moment. All eyes and pressures are on Egypt’s President Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood.
Both Hamas and the Israeli government have cause to put pressure on Morsi for different reasons. Hamas has every reason to leverage the post-Arab Spring importance of public opinion and its historical links to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to put itself into a stronger position than when the conflict began. It wants Egypt to help end Israel’s five-year-old embargo along with some sort of acceptance on the part of Israel and the US that Hamas is here to stay and must be engaged with in a non-military fashion.
Israel, on the other hand, has cause to show the opposite. It hopes to show that the change in Egypt has not brought any Arab spring dividend for Hamas. Nothing can show this better than Morsi’s inability to do anything different than what former President Mubarak used to do.
In any case, the bottom line is that in the midst of all these complexities, there may be little room for the insertion of Iran. So far at least, no one is asking for Tehran’s help and few are blaming it for emboldening Hamas. Interestingly, there is also very little bluster coming out of Tehran. The usually unreliable Farsnews is reporting that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called Morsi and thanked him “for his efforts to establish tranquility, security, and stability in Gaza.” He also went on to say that “there must be a specific plan to prevent the continuation of killings and bloodshed and on the basis of consultation with other countries a consensus must be created in the international arena against the Zionist regime’s aggression.” That’s about it, so far. Pretty mild, I would say, and conceding of Egypt’s leadership.
– Farideh Farhi is an independent researcher and an affiliate graduate faculty member in political science and international relations at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.