Shifting Mideast Sands Reveal New Alliances

This means that Hamas is probably stuck between Qatar and the Iranians, with the support of the former no longer worth what it once was, and the support of the latter available only in a truncated and reduced form.

The week’s events in Gaza, meanwhile, showcased the continued vigor of the Iran-led camp.

The most staunch supporter of Iran among the Palestinians, and now apparently the main beneficiary of Teheran’s largesse, is the Islamic Jihad movement.  This is a purely paramilitary and terrorist group, with no pretensions to mass political leadership.  As such, it is a less complicated prospect from Teheran’s point of view than Hamas.

The recent apprehending of the Klos-C arms ship  by Israel, as it brought a consignment of weapons evidently intended for Islamic Jihad in Gaza, was the latest indication of Teheran’s willingness to offer practical backing to those it favors.

Islamic Jihad’s furious response to the Israeli apprehending of the craft, and to the killing in recent days of a number of its operatives by Israel, was certainly done with Iran’s blessing and probably at its instruction (along with tacit permission from the Hamas authorities in Gaza).

The interrupted route of the weapons intended for Gaza (from Syria to Iran, to Iraq, to Sudan and then to the Strip) and the subsequent rocket fire should remind us that the Iran-led Shia bloc remains a potent gathering, capable of coordinated, region-wide action.

So three power blocs currently dominate the Middle East -- the Iran-led Shia group, a rival emergent Cairo-Riyadh axis leading a group of smaller Sunni states, and a smaller, much weaker Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood alliance.  Their competition is set to dominate regional affairs in the period opening up.

Israel, of course, will be a charter member of none of these groups.  But Jerusalem is a de facto ally of the Saudi-Egypt camp.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, were in recent decades the main allies of the U.S. in the area.  The former two countries are now in search of new friends, and have found each other.  Saudi Arabia and the UAE have tried to lobby on Sisi’s behalf in Washington in recent weeks, though as yet with limited success.

The shifting sands of the Mid-Eastern strategic map are all the result of the perceived withdrawal of the U.S. from its role as a regional patron.  This process is still underway and it’s too soon to draw any final conclusions regarding its results. But  the current drawing together of Saudi Arabia and Sisi’s Egypt is surely among the most significant responses to it.  It is likely to form the basis for the Sunni Arabs’ attempts to contain Iranian ambitions in the period ahead.