Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

In Israel-Hamas clash, Iran casts a shadow

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 9:42 AM EST, Thu November 22, 2012
A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26. A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26.
HIDE CAPTION
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Warning: Graphic image (single)
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: In the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, Iran is a key player
  • Ghitis: Iran's nuclear program serves as powerful psychological backdrop
  • She says Israelis are worried since Tehran has long armed Israel's enemies
  • Ghitis: The fighting has much larger geopolitical implications for the Middle East

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- In the latest round of fighting between Israelis and the Palestinian militants of Hamas in Gaza, one key player looms like an ominous, lengthening shadow: Iran.

Never far from sight or mind, the standoff between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program serves as the backdrop to the fighting. It frames Israeli tactics and strategy and influences the international diplomatic response. Iran and its nuclear program also play a powerful psychological role, as observers and participants ponder the parallels between the latest Israel-Hamas conflict and a possible war in which Iran would stand against the U.S. or Israel, and perhaps other NATO allies.

Cease-fire reached in Gaza conflict

Little wonder then that Israel has received strong support from U.S. President Barack Obama -- who has repeatedly stated, "We are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles raining on people's homes" -- as well as from nations including the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and others.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

When Israelis see a rocket launched from Gaza, the thought that one day that rocket could carry nuclear materials burns hot in their mind.

Opinion: Israel, engage Abbas now

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



And when they see their Iron Dome defensive missile shield -- the extraordinarily successful new technology -- shoot down a missile, it gives them, and perhaps NATO, a sense of reassurance about how a clash with Iran might unfold.

Tehran has long armed Israel's most determined enemies. Israelis worry that Iran could hand nuclear materials to groups committed to Israel's destruction, a prospect many see as more realistic than a direct nuclear attack from Iran.

Israel's attacks in Gaza are aimed at stopping the rockets and mortar attacks that have gone on for years and have intensified greatly in recent weeks. Israel complained to the U.N. But Israel also wanted to deplete a Hamas arsenal it sees as part of Iran's preparations in case of war with Israel.

Israeli officials say the missiles launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad into Israel's two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, are Iran's rockets, which Israelis believe were shipped by Iran in separate pieces like a doomsday Ikea package. They were sent by sea to Sudan and then moved through Egypt and into tunnels to Gaza, where they were assembled for firing at Israel with the help of Iranian operatives on the ground in Gaza. Iran and Sudan have denied that such a smuggling operation exists.

Witness describes Tel Aviv bomb blast
Rubin: Israel has an enemy in Gaza
Oren: Hamas 'celebrating' bus bombing

Iran has threatened to unleash attacks against Israel and "wipe it off the face of the Earth," in case of a hit on its nuclear installations. Those attacks could come from Gaza and from Iran's Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

Perhaps not coincidentally, in late October Israeli fighter jets are believed to have bombed an arms factory in Sudan. The Times of London said the facility made missiles for Hamas and was operated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Some analysts have speculated that the Israeli attacks against Gaza constitute the second part of the Sudan operation, in which Israel set out to destroy Iran's most dangerous weapons arrayed in Gaza just meters from Israeli civilian populations and being launched with increasing brazenness by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Opinion: How this could be the last Gaza war

The latest fighting brings to the forefront one of the pivotal questions posed by the revolutions that swept across the Arab Middle East in the past two years: Where would key Arab and Muslim players stand in case of a confrontation between Iran and the West, particularly if Israel and the Palestinians became one of the epicenters of fighting?

European governments that defended Israel's right to fight back against rocket attacks also urged restraint, fearing an unraveling of a highly unstable Middle East, where alliances are shifting and agendas are difficult to ascertain. One of the great uncertainties of the latest conflict has been how Arab countries where the political ground has shifted -- particularly Egypt -- would react.

So far, it appears that the rhetoric has changed somewhat. Arab leaders and their populations support the Palestinians, but they have other priorities at home.

In case of a war with Iran, however, specifically one involving Israel, what would Turkey, a NATO member but withering critic of Israel, do? What could the West expect from Egypt, with its president's Muslim Brotherhood ties? What about Qatar, a strong backer of Hamas but an important U.S. friend in the region?

The political transformations brought by the Arab uprisings also shattered some of Hamas' alliances, particularly the one with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's best friend and until recently Hamas' own warmly hospitable host. Damascus provided Hamas' home away from home, the base of its exiled politburo leaders.

When the carnage in Syria spun out of control, Hamas broke with al-Assad and its leaders left, but the group maintained its links with Tehran.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya traveled to Iran earlier this year, reaffirming ties with the Islamic Republic.

And although Hamas and Iran stand on opposite sides of Islam's Sunni-Shia divide, they share fundamental goals. Tehran's leaders unambiguously call for an end to Israel. Hamas has even more explicit goals on the issue. Its charter, which has never been revoked or amended, opposes any negotiations with Israel and declares "Israel will exist ... until Islam will obliterate it." The charter also quotes an ancient Islamic scripture about the promise of redemption, saying it will come after "killing the Jews."

While Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has made some conciliatory statements, suggesting a temporary accommodation with Israel might be possible, he has announced plans to retire, and hardliners led by Haniya are gaining the upper hand in a power struggle within Hamas.

It's not much of a stretch to say Hamas and Iran share the same objectives regarding Israel and the desirability of a future without it.

Opinion: Israel, face new reality

The fighting between Israel and Gaza falls tragically on the people who live there. But, like much that goes on in the Middle East, it has much larger geopolitical implications, casting shadows across the world and buffeted by forces beyond the immediate site of the fighting.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT