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Oliver Javanpour

Oliver Javanpour: Iran’s Proxy Wars

Oliver Javanpour, December 19, 2012

[Editor's note: Mr. Javanpour is a Senior Partner at Cyrus Echo a public policy, and international relations consulting firm in Ottawa and also the President of Jewish National Fund in Ottawa, he publishes a bi-Weekly column on JNF related projects and activities.]

This article first appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.

President Obama thought he could relax after having won the day at home, and decided to go out and win Asia by visiting the TPP nations to strengthen economic relationships in the Asian market. Unfortunately, the economic agenda was upstaged by Hamas. The Iranian proxy chose this time to increase its rate of rocket fire into Israel.  The rate of increase was small enough to fly below the global media radar, but irritating enough for Israel to react.

Israel’s reaction got on the radar. World focus suddenly shifted from Syria’s civil war and from Iran’s nuclear program. This incident that brought death and destruction to both sides tested some new ground and allowed us to see how the new Middle East landscape is shaping up. Here is how I see the results:

• Hamas: an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and a proxy for Iran, Hamas was testing a couple of things.  First, how ready, able and willing was Egypt to support Hamas and how far would Egypt go to protect Hamas. A week into the negotiation process the answer was obvious - the Egyptian Brotherhood has no stomach for war right now.  It does not want to send the country it has just inherited down a rabbit hole after Hamas. This was a rude awakening for Hamas. The Egyptian Brotherhood responded to their outlandish demands with a more moderate negotiation strategy. The second element Hamas was testing was the Israeli public and the international community. The usual Gaza supporters and satellite NGOs hit the news circuits and Internet with their usual responses. The reactions were not what they expected. In Israel there was majority support for airstrikes, but also for a ground invasion to wipe out Gaza’s weapons.  In the rest of the world, there was a slight, but perceptible, shift to more balanced reporting that at least recognized the existence of rocket fire into Israel. The loser was the innocent civilian population of Gaza, put at risk again by their Hamas leaders’ need to test the waters.
• Iran: this skilled puppet master timed the incident to take the spotlight off Syria, its other proxy, and decrease the airtime devoted to the IAEA’s scrutiny of its nuclear intentions. Iran also wanted to test the will of the Muslim Brotherhood and the strength of its organizational solidarity. Iran, having long tapped into Egyptian criminal elements and gangs to import illegal weapons into Egypt and export them to Gaza through the Sinai (as well as the more direct route through Lebanon’s Hezbollah), saw an opportunity to disrupt and terrorize Israel through its doctrine of asymmetric warfare. Developing and nurturing proxy groups globally allows Iran to engage its targets without putting itself at risk, making Iran the actual winner in all of this.  They successfully tested the current lay of the land and diverted focus from their other proxy and nuclear issues, without harming a hair on their own heads.
• Israel:  was certainly not the winner. The death and destruction caused by Hamas will leave scars. The aggressive campaign by the anti-Israeli media, including those well paid by Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, show that the world is still willing to buy the distorted picture they paint. Israel is still chastised by a biased press as responding with disproportionate force. Israel did find out that it still has some friends in Egypt’ military and that the United States can still wield some influence in Egypt and, specifically, on Morsi. 
• Egyptian President Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood: the self-made millionaire found himself tested by all sides. The underhanded Hamas leadership, consistently showing little care for its own people by deploying rocket launching sites in their homes and storing military ammunition in hospitals, schools and mosques, was shown to care even less about Egypt by trying to bring them into their proxy war. Morsi saw through that and seemed to realize that Egypt has more important things to do at home. Morsi had to balance pressure from the United States with internal public and Muslim Brotherhood pressure to support Hamas.  He decided to support Egypt. The discipline of the Egyptian Brotherhood in their support for their president was notable. The Brotherhood was tested and showed resilience and discipline.  This is a good indication of the Brotherhood’s future approach. It will be using the Turkish model of a systematic and methodical, but slow, approach to reform.  While Iran has frequently suggested it could replace the United States as a funding body for Egypt, Morsi is far more intelligent than to get into into such a deal.
• United States: The response was typical Obama administration.  No one was really happy, but people went along with Secretary Clinton’s and President Obama’s demands. They did not challenge Iran on weapons shipments, but asked Morsi for tighter control over the Sinai.  While there is no love lost between the Obama camp (including Clinton) and Israel’s government (particularly Bibi,) the US administration was adamant that Egypt stay the course and remain on the list of supporters in the region. For the United States it was a draw.  Its hopes for more focus on Asia and economic issues were overshadowed again by Middle East politics.  The administration showed that it can still influence Egyptian foreign policy, but, like Egypt, it would rather be tending its own garden.

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