Eric Feferberg/Pool/AP
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right,
hugs his French counterpart Nicolas
Sarkozy at the end of a press conference
on Tuesday Jan. 6,

Israeli Offensive in Gaza Spurs Infighting Among Its Normally Unified Neighbors

January 08, 2009 10:24 AM
by Josh Katz
Some Middle Eastern leaders have, surprisingly, broken ranks to blast Hamas for its actions, earning harsh criticism from customary allies.

Different Opinions on Israeli Strike in Middle East

The Arab world is often united in its criticism of Israel and its support of the Palestinian cause. But groups and countries throughout the Middle East do not all share the same opinion on the Israeli campaign against Hamas in Gaza that has resulted in the deaths of more than 600 Palestinians since it began on Dec. 27, 2008. According to Raymond Beauchemin of MarketWatch, “Egypt differs from Qatar differs from Syria differs from the United Arab Emirates differs from Saudi Arabia, all the way down the line. All of which makes sense, of course. All are different countries with different concerns and relationships with the Palestinians.”

Turkey, which has taken on a larger role in the affairs of its Arab neighbors, has strongly criticized Israel for the operation in Gaza. Turkey is a unique case in the region because of its good relationship with Israel and the fact that it is a secular country. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called the Israeli strikes “a crime against humanity,” and hundreds of thousands of Turks have protested on the streets, according to Reuters. The secularist opposition party has joined the ruling AK Party in defense of the Palestinians.

The leadership in Egypt, however, has not placed the blame solely on Israel’s shoulders. President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticized Hamas from the beginning for deserting the ceasefire; on Jan. 1, Aboul Gheit argued that Hamas “served Israel the opportunity on a golden platter to hit Gaza,” according to the International Herald Tribune. Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has denounced Mubarak for not standing up to Israel and called for protests.

Abdel Moneim Said, director of Cairo’s Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies claims that, “Egypt is trying to support Palestinian humanitarian needs, but not allow a radical group to control the situation, dominate the Palestinian issue or affect Egyptian internal politics.”

Because of their criticism of Hamas, the Egyptians have become the target of condemnation themselves from others in the Middle East. Sunni Lebanese cleric Sheikh Maher Hamoud criticized Abu Gheith in a television address aired Jan. 3 on NBN TV. He called the minister “Idiot Abu S---” for failing to strongly condemn Israel for the Gaza airstrikes. “This [Party of God] is faced by the Party of Satan, one of whose members [Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu Al-Gheit] did not hesitate to say anything possible in order to please the Jews,” said Hamoud, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

On the same day, Syria-based TV channel Al-Rai chastised Mubarak and Egyptian policies on the matter by airing a poem by poet Nizar Qabbani. According to MEMRI, “In his poem, Qabbani compares Arab leaders to the pre-Islamic poet Antara bin Shaddad, considered a symbol of false Arab bravado.”

In Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is a frequent and vocal critic of Israel, government officials have called for neighboring countries to support Hamas, and have criticized those who have done otherwise.

“The failure of some countries to move effectively regarding Israeli terrorism, as well as silence over this terrorism will have negative effects on the status of these countries,” an Iranian envoy said, according to British paper The Guardian.

However, some Iranian groups have been just as critical of Hamas. On Dec. 30, the student group Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat-Taif-e ‘Alameh censured Hamas and called it a “terrorist group” that “has the blood of innocents on its hands.” According to the group, “Israel’s current crimes in Gaza are strongly condemned—but it is equally [important] to condemn the terror organizations that use kindergartens and hospitals as a shield against the [Israeli] attacks. [Hamas’s use of human shields] prepares the ground for intensified bombardment [by Israel] and for the killing of children and civilians, and [therefore] it is an inhuman act,” MEMRI reports.

The comments by the Iranian student group appeared in the daily Kargozaran newspaper. But the next day, the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shut down Kargozaran. The newspaper Kayhan, which is sympathetic to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, criticized the student group’s comments as “completely identical to official proclamations of Zionist officials” and an “insolent communiqué.”

Background: Israel’s Gaza blockade, and truce with Hamas

Israel began the blockade against Gaza and the West Bank in early 2006 with the support of the United States and the European Union, after Hamas won a majority in parliamentary elections. Israel lifted the West Bank blockade in June 2007 when the Palestinian Authority’s power-sharing agreement fell apart, and the secular Fatah group took charge of the area.

Israel then engaged in peace talks with Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, while augmenting the blockade against Gaza. The rocket attacks from Gaza continued, however, and the popularity of Hamas did not fade in the strip.

Hamas then staged a violent coup in which the group routed Fatah from Gaza and took full political control of the area.

The Egypt-mediated truce began on June 19 and both sides consented to observe a “mutual and simultaneous calm.” Israel also agreed to gradually ease the blockade, and the nation did permit “more food, fuel and humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza,” but Hamas said it wasn’t enough, according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite the truce Hamas occasionally shot rockets into Israel, and the Israeli military launched surgical strikes aimed at destroying tunnels from Gaza to Egypt used to smuggle weapons, cash, and food and medical supplies.

Israel has faced increasing international pressure to lift the Gaza blockade. Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, expressed such sentiments recently. The European Union, United Nations and Russia have also pushed Israel to remove the blockade, according to Sky News.

In mid-December, Hamas officials declared an end to the truce and increased the frequency of rocket launches into residential neighborhoods in southern Israel. Israel responded by beginning its current military campaign into Gaza on Dec. 27, first with airstrikes and then, a week later, sending in ground troops.

Reference: Regional map


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