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As Hamas confronts Israel, its Arab support swells

The last time Israel went to war with Gaza, it didn't have to worry about regional diplomatic fallout. The Arab uprisings have changed that calculus.

By Correspondent / November 19, 2012

Black smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip towards Israel on Monday. The last time Israel launched a major military operation in Gaza, it could count on neighboring Egypt not to pose any significant opposition. But in the post-'Arab spring' Middle East, the region looks much different, and Hamas has found a new swell of support as it faces Israel.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

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Cairo

The last time Israel launched a major military operation in Gaza, it could count on neighboring Egypt not to pose any significant opposition. Its then-ruler, Hosni Mubarak, was hostile to Hamas, the ideological cousin of the internal Egyptian opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood, and he kept Egypt's border with Gaza mostly shut as Israel waged a war that killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.

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But in the post-“Arab spring” Middle East, the region looks much different, and Hamas has found a new swell of support as it faces Israel. Mr. Mubarak, ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, has been replaced by an elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of a mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border, it has become difficult to keep track of all the solidarity trips made to Gaza by Arab officials.

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi sent his prime minister, Hisham Kandil, on Nov. 16. Islamist-led Tunisia's foreign minister followed the next day. The head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Saad el Katatni, is due to lead a delegation there today, followed by an Arab League delegation tomorrow.

The uprisings that displaced pro-Western autocrats who toed the US line on Israel have brought to power Islamist governments more friendly to Hamas, as well as more sensitive to public opinion typically supportive of the Palestinian cause. This has reshaped the regional dynamics, leaving Israel increasingly isolated. These new governments, along with Turkey and Qatar, have formed a vocal block of opposition to Israel's assault on Gaza.

“This is a significant change in the Arab reaction,” says Khalil Al Anani, a scholar at Durham University in Britain. The new Arab nations ready to take a stronger stance against Israel could change Israel’s calculations in favor of more restraint.

“It shows that Gaza is not alone. This will put pressure on Israel, and they [Arab states] can move further if they want, by lobbying internationally and putting a spotlight on Israel and its lack of interest in peace," he says. 

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