Egypt slams Iran's Hamas, Hezbollah connection

Play in your own sandbox.

That seems to be the message Egypt is delivering to Iran.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, fired a verbal broadside against Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, on Wednesday, saying the three "worked together in the fighting over Gaza to provoke conflict in the Middle East," reports Reuters.

"[They tried] to turn the region to confrontation in the interest of Iran, which is trying to use its cards to escape Western pressure ... on the nuclear file," Mr. Gheit said in an interview with Orbit satellite channel on Wednesday.

This comes one day after Iran summoned the head of Egypt's interest section in Iran to protest the Egyptian government's refusal to allow Iranian aid to pass through Egypt to Gaza.

But aid isn't the only thing Iran is attempting to send to Gaza, according to numerous reports. "An Iranian freighter carrying weaponry for Hamas has been blocked by Egypt from entering the Suez Canal, amid concerns that Tehran is trying to supply the Palestinian militant group with missiles capable of striking Tel Aviv," reports The Australian.

The Jerusalem Post reports that "the [Israeli Defense Forces] are concerned that Iran will supply Hamas with long-range Fajr missiles that are capable of reaching Tel Aviv."

"This is a big test for the Egyptians," a senior defense official said. "So far the Egyptians have prevented the ship from crossing the Suez and we hope it will stay that way."

Egypt is on one side of a rift in the Arab world that is being exacerbated by Israel's 22-day incursion into Gaza, which ended last week, as the Monitor's Beirut-based correspondent Nicholas Blanford reports.

Across the Arab world the conflict continues to tear at the rift between factions that extol resistance to Israel and the Western-friendly autocracies and monarchies that rule in the region. As anger at Israel grows, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas backers in Iran and Syria gain more currency on the street at the expense of American allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. And this shifting tide of support could have an impact on US policy in the Middle East for decades.

The Monitor has written extensively on these divisions, including an in-depth series of stories by Istanbul bureau chief Scott Peterson about the rising clout of Shiites in the Muslim world and how it is unnerving the region's Sunni-dominated countries.

Two years ago, the Monitor's Middle East editor, Michael B. Farrell wrote about rising anti-Shiite rhetoric being directed at Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority.

Mr. Blanford wrote last May about a panel discussion between top Sunni and Shiite leaders in the region. The consensus there was that the oft-reported Sunni-Shiite rift – aside from being overhyped by the press – was more about politics than religion.

Still, there's little doubt that regional tensions remain. And how this latest spat between Sunni-dominated Egypt and Shiite-led Iran plays out could have great implications for stability in the region and for the way President Obama's administration will be able to navigate peace efforts.

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