Palestinians are caught in the middle

The tension between Iran, on one hand, and Israel and the United States, on the other hand, is growing and having a variety of impacts regionally and internationally. The reason for the increased tension is numerous official statements and periodic leaks over a possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities as a way to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. These, in turn, are instigating activity by the United States–and to a lesser extent its western allies–to try to convince Israel to restrain itself by promising alternative means of circumscribing Iran, including an intensification of sanctions.

The recent visit of Israel’s prime minister to the United States was dominated by these concerns. Everybody had the distinct impression that the Iran issue tops the agenda between the two sides. What is complicating the matter internationally (but especially for the United States) is the fear that an Israeli attack and possible Iranian response would drag the United States into another war. An Israeli attack could produce an Iranian response against American troops that are now spread throughout the region. Finally, an Israeli attack might cause Iran to retaliate against the Arab Gulf allies of the United States and the world’s main oil producers, generating dire economic consequences.

In the immediate term, the regional tension is manifesting itself in the internal conflict in Syria, giving the revolution there a regional and international dimension. Iran, supported by Russia and China, is trying to prevent the collapse of its ally in Syria because the continuity of the regime led by Bashar Assad will allow Iran to maintain its influence over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (through Iran’s proxy Hizballah). The fall of the Assad regime would interrupt this strategically significant axis and strategically weaken Iran. As a result, the internal conflict in Syria is becoming increasingly complicated, with dimensions beyond the "Arab spring" considerations of democratization and social and economic development, stretching into regional strategic politics.

The other clear consequence of the tension between Iran and the West is visible in internal Palestinian politics. This heightened rhetoric unfortunately coincides with the reconciliation dialogue underway between Palestinian factions Fateh and Hamas and efforts to reunify the Palestinian political systems and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. When Palestinian President and Fateh leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal signed an agreement in Doha earlier this year, debate began immediately within Hamas and soon became the main obstacle to reconciliation. The Hamas movement seems to have become entangled in the ongoing tension between Iran and the United States and other regional players, including the Arab states. Prominent leaders in Hamas announced their opposition to the Doha accord. Meshaal and his allies, particularly those outside Palestine, are being encouraged to go ahead with the reconciliation agreement by Arab countries such as Qatar (which mediated the agreement ), as well as Egypt and its key Muslim Brotherhood movement. Others in Hamas, represented largely by local Gaza leaders including Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahhar, were quite unhappy with the Doha agreement and have established direct contacts with Iran, which is discouraging them from supporting the agreement. As a result, the options before Palestinians at this difficult time are also being limited by the tension between Iran and the West and its Arab allies.