Outside powers are fueling a civil conflict in the Middle East, except this one is not happening in Iraq. This “proxy war” is taking place in the Palestinian territories.
The violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was not started by the United States or Iran, but has become a battle between them with Washington and Tehran supporting opposing factions in Palestine’s divided government. The conflict between President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction and the Hamas-controlled cabinet is the culmination of a decade-long struggle over who will dominate post-Arafat Palestinian politics. But Washington and Tehran are interested mostly in using the violence to secure competing regional interests.
Just as he employed last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon to discredit the United States and moderate Arab countries, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sees another opening to do more of the same. He calculates that support for Hamas—which advocates Israel’s destruction and is improving schools and social services for Palestinians—puts him and his country on the right side of the most crucial of Arab issues. Indeed, Iran consistently has sought to use its position on the Palestine issue to extend its influence throughout the Middle East at the expense of U.S. allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.