Like many other people around the world I have spent the last week observing the developments in the Gaza Strip from the screen of my laptop, regularly checking for updates and analysis.  Of all the articles, pieces, and posts that are floating out there around the internet, the one I find the most compelling is a recent post on Foreign Policy’s blog “Passport”.  In this post Blake Hounshell eloquently articulates the question that had been bothering me but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on:

“[W]hy would Israel be willing to trade some temporary advantages in Gaza for a number of strategic setbacks: the effective end of the Annapolis process, a possible collapse of the peace track with Syria, worldwide opprobrium, a reinvigorated radical camp in Iran, the further undermining of pro-Western regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and a Hamas that may in fact emerge stronger vis-à-vis the ever-shrinking Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction?”

What makes Hounshell’s analysis so much more relevant and compelling than that of other pundits and bloggers is that he has reframed the question.  Instead of asking what Israel and Hamas stand to gain from firing missiles and rockets, Hounshell reminds us of what we all stand to lose.  The strategic setbacks that he describes will have detrimental effects for years to come.  While I think that his description of the “pro-Western regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia” conveniently ignores both of those countries’ anti-democratic elements and practices, his prediction of a “reinvigorated radical camp in Iran” is already being realized. More on developments in Iran after the fold.

Events in Iran in the past week clearly show that both extreme factions in Iran and the government itself are using the violence in Gaza as an opportunity to increase rhetoric against Israel and crack down on human rights.  Last Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has delivered a statement declaring that anyone who dies defending Gazans from Israeli attacks will become a martyr.  By Wednesday, a group of conservative clerics had launched a website allowing volunteers to register to fight Israel.  Thousands of volunteers have already registered but the group has not yet clarified how they will mobilize these volunteers.   Also on Wednesday, a reformist newspaper connected to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was closed by the government for publishing an article that it found to be sympathetic to Israel.

The government has also seized the opportunity to continue their harassment of Nobel laureate and human right activist Dr. Shirin Ebadi.   In addition to closing her office on December 21st, there have been protests outside her home, with protesters chanting “Ebadi supports, Israel slaughter” and “Death to the pen-pushing mercenary,” and vandalizing her building.  The protesters and the government seem to think that they can redirect the public anger over Israel’s attacks towards those who critique the regime for its human rights violations.  Human Rights Watch has stated that “Iranian government should immediately end its campaign of persecution against Dr. Shirin Ebadi, which has now escalated to mob threats and violence against her home”.  Both the U.S. State Department and the United Nations have condemned the protests.  Despite these threats, Ebadi is determined to continue working in Iran, saying, “regardless of all pressures, I am not leaving Iran and I am not ceasing my human rights activities.”

The events of the last week clearly indicate that the violence in Gaza will have ramifications across the Middle East. My sincerest hope is that the leaders of both Israel and Hamas will begin to consider the long-term implications of their actions.  As the violence continues to rage and emotions continue to escalate, it will become more and more difficult for moderate voices and cooler heads to prevail.

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