Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt newspaper

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Gaza between America and Iran

In 2012, the commander of Al-Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, received in Tehran a Hamas official named Yehya Sinwar. Observers said the Iranian general and the Palestinian visitor with a “Brotherhood” and security background hit it off. They added that the meeting ended with both men feeling that they could count on the other.

Iranian support was nothing new. In 2006, Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar returned from a meeting with Soleimani with financial support amounting to $22 million to pay salaries in Gaza, which had chosen to separate from the Palestinian Authority. But the cooperation between Soleimani and Sinwar will turn into a major project, especially when the latter took over the leadership of the movement in the Gaza Strip, and rumors circulated about a plan for a “major strike” that will break Israel’s back through missiles and drones flying in from several maps.

Sinwar was released from Israeli jail in 2011 after two decades of imprisonment, which he used to master the Hebrew language and learn about “the strengths and weaknesses of the occupation,” which also impressed Soleimani. The IRGC general did not skimp on Sinwar with weapons or the ability to manufacture them. Thus, the current scene in Gaza bears the imprints of that meeting. Before Hamas decided to ally with Iran, especially during the Sinwar era, the “Islamic Jihad” led by Fathi Shaqqaqi had already chosen this path.

The current scene in Gaza bears traces of a number of tumultuous decades in the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially in its core episode, which is the Palestinian period. President Joe Biden’s announcement of the Israeli plan to stop the Gaza war and America’s readiness to play a guarantor role for its implementation in cooperation with Egypt and Qatar re-emphasize the US role in curbing the confrontations and resolving them.

Waiting for Hamas’ final response to the plan is a reminder that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has also carried Iranian fingerprints in recent decades.

The American shadow is very present in the Middle East. When Egyptian forces crossed the “Bar Lev Line” in 1973, Israel believed it was facing an existential threat. America intervened and contributed to adjusting the balance of power on the ground so that negotiation became the only option to get out of the impasse.

This is how Henry Kissinger concluded the disengagement agreements on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. The American red line was at the forefront of the reasons that prompted Anwar Sadat to take the unprecedented, dramatic step of visiting the Israeli Knesset in 1977 in a quest for peace.

Five decades later, Sinwar’s forces crossed the electronic fence, and Israel again believed it was facing an existential threat. America sent its fleets to prevent the expansion of the conflict, controlled the exchange of strikes between Israel and Iran, and then opposed Israel’s complete invasion of Rafah. It left the two warring parties with no choice but to seek a way out through negotiation.

It is no exaggeration to say that the year 1979 was one of the most important and dangerous in the Middle East and in the Palestinian file as well. That year, Khomeini’s revolution succeeded in overthrowing the regime of the Shah. The revolution emerged with an unprecedented scene – the image of US embassy staff in Tehran becoming hostages there.

The purpose was to undermine the image of the “Great Satan” and try to expel it from the region, or at least shake the threads that bind it to neighboring countries. The Israeli flag was removed from the Israeli embassy building in Tehran and replaced by the Palestinian one.

Iran exploited the fact that during the same year, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed and Egypt practically withdrew from the military aspect of the conflict with Israel and allied with the United States.

There is not enough space here to count the fingerprints. America’s sponsorship of Yasser Arafat’s departure from Beirut, then its embrace of the Oslo Accords and its current insistence on a role for Palestinian legitimacy. On the other hand, there were many Iranian fingerprints in undermining the Oslo Accords, militarizing the second Palestinian intifada, supporting the rule of Hamas in Gaza, and enabling the Al-Aqsa Flood in cooperation with Sinwar.

The Flood operation dealt an unprecedented blow to Israel. The Netanyahu government responded by inflicting an unparalleled catastrophe on the people of Gaza. Neither Sinwar’s blow nor Netanyahu’s response was fatal.

In the midst of the bloody scenes, Arab and Saudi efforts succeeded in including the issue of the two-state solution on the agenda of governments near and far.

Biden’s offer placed both sides of the conflict before a difficult choice with no alternative. Netanyahu cannot forget the imprints of the decisive American role in saving the Hebrew state from the days of the “Bar Lev Line” until the day of the “Flood.” He cannot ignore growing international isolation.

Sinwar, on the other hand, cannot disregard the new Nakba in the Gaza Strip, just as he cannot forget Iran’s fingerprints in providing the conditions for the “Flood” and its role in launching wars of support from Lebanon, by the Houthis in Yemen, and others.

Can Netanyahu return from the war amid widespread international support for the Palestinian state? Can Sinwar release the hostages in a settlement that will remove the Gaza Strip from the military aspect of the confrontation with Israel? Does Hamas dream of emerging from the West Bank after it became clear that the dream of a rise from Jordan is far-fetched?