The eight-day Israeli offensive in Gaza and the civil war in Syria highlights the often contradictory web of alliances that fuels conflicts in the Middle East.

If the Gaza cease-fire holds, Hamas in cooperation with Iran are within reach of a major symbolic victory. It will have avoided devastation of the group in Gaza and can claim a capability to strike the Israeli heartland. In fact the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas does not include Egyptian guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. And what the latest conflict has highlighted is the contradictory web that fuels the current conflicts in the Middle East.

During the conflict Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Nov. 17 called on the Muslim world to retaliate against Israeli actions in Gaza. Naturally, many are looking in the direction of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran's most capable militant proxy, could open a second front against Israel.

Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Russia in turn are propping up the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. China has also voiced its position that no one should interfere, and acted in concert with Russia to veto any U.N. sanctions on Assad.

U.S.-made weapons from Qatar and Saudi Arabia reach the Free Syrian Army FSA rebels primarily through a secret Turkish weapons center, while Hamas in Gaza and Egypt have thrown their ideological support behind the rebels.

The Gaza conflict, found Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt supporting Hamas while the U.S. and the EU stood firmly behind Israel's right to defend itself against incoming rockets. The Emir of Qatar gifted Hamas $400 million during his first ever visit to Gaza, and Turkey and Egypt both issued statements harshly "condemning" the "naked aggression" of U.S. ally Israel.

China supports the Palestinian push for full state membership to the United Nations.

Qatar, Turkey and Egypt have all generally been in the U.S. corner for the last few decades and are integral to American foreign policy in a stable Middle East. In recent contrast, their comments on Israel's "aggression" indicate a steady emboldening of their leaders. One might trace a line back to 2003 when Turkey denied American requests to invade Iraq from their southern borders.

Diplomatically, the situation is far from black and white, while militarily the situation is still pretty much one sided as Israel, with the full support of the U.S., stands unmatched.

Fareed Zakaria, writing for The Washington Post, cites the 2010 study “The Arab-Israeli Military Balance” to argue that Israel has surpassed the Arab countries in the region in "every dimension of warfare."

Zakaria notes that the most powerful Arab military, Syria, is fighting to survive and Egypt wouldn't risk war with Israel because Israel is only country in the region with a sophisticated nuclear arsenal and advanced ballistic missiles.

That's what makes the Syrian conflict so critical. If Assad falls, the Shiite Crescent—which includes Shiites from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria—will be broken and the regional influence of Iran (as well as Russia) would be diminished.

As one Iranian Revolutionary Guards member told the Wall Street Journal in August, "Iran's borders extend beyond geographic frontiers, and fighting for Syria is an integral part of keeping the Shiite Crescent intact."

Yet the best case for Hamas might still be that their Sunni brothers overthrow Assad, despite the fact that the group is commonly considered an Iranian surrogate. Turkey, Qatar and Egypt don't want to see Israel get any stronger—that's why they have supported Hamas—but are also actively supporting the Syrian rebels.

In Syria, pressure on the al Assad regime is mounting, and the Syrian military likely understands that it may very well lose the war. Facing defeat, loyalists in the military could turn against the al Assad family, making a coup possible.

And in any case a fresh war escalation is on the cards in Syria in response to the deployment of US-manned Patriots and AWACs on Turkey’s border with Syria. Syria may decide to vent its ire against Israel.

 

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