IRAN AND SYRIA have violently disordered the Middle Eastern chessboard using their Hamas and Hezbollah pawns. The anxious and, they must hope, futile scamper to reassemble the pieces must be mightily pleasing to both these scheming, nihilistic and intransigent regimes.
Provoking Israel to battle served many purposes at once, both for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of Iran, and Bashir Assad, of Syria. The first is defensive. Their calculation was that the crises in Gaza and Lebanon would take the heat off Tehran and Damascus, where international pressure was making the temperature uncomfortably hot. In this they have, for the time being, succeeded. The world suddenly has more urgent things to do than penalise Iran for its nuclear defiance, indict President Assad and his cronies for their suspected involvement in last year’s murder of the Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, or even to home in on their abetting of terrorism in Iraq.
The second and broader goal was to reassert leadership of the rejectionist camp committed, in President Ahmadinejad’s gleeful words, to “the elimination of the Zionist stain”. The Hamas kidnapping raid was timed to sabotage the efforts by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to engineer a government of national unity that would have tied Hamas, even if only tacitly and tactically, to accepting Israel’s right to exist — and to make it politically impossible for him to carry out his threat to invite Palestinians to vote on the two-state formula, should Hamas refuse.
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