Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tehran Stoking Tensions In The Middle East

Hanegbi: Tehran stoking tension to wear us down

The renewed Iran-Hamas alliance may be the cause of recent tension in the south expected to be on full display Friday when Hamas organizes a massive march to the border with Israel, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said.

Tehran has an interest in constant tension in the south – as well as in challenging Israel through Hezbollah in the north – to wear down Israel and obligate it to devote time and energy to deal with local security incidents, Hanegbi said in an interview with Kan Bet radio on Wednesday.

Hamas and Iran had a severe falling out at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, when Hamas removed its offices from Syria and took a side against President Bashar Assad, whom the Iranians are backing.

But over the past year, Hanegbi said, as Assad’s position stabilized and Hamas’s situation worsened both because of poor relations with Egypt and because of Israel’s success in thwarting the attack tunnels, some inside Hamas “saw a renewal of the alliance with Iran as a way out of this difficult situation.”

Iran, he added, “has an interest in deepening its relationship with Hamas, and it is doing it in the open and publicly, not only underground.”

After a number of years of calm in the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he pointed out, the trend over the last few months “is not positive.”

Friday’s planned Land Day march to the Gaza border in the Gaza Strip, as well as other actions the Palestinians may take to coincide with Independence Day, the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and Nakba Day were discussed at Wednesday’s weekly security cabinet meeting that took place without an ill Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presiding.

The prime minister, taken to the hospital on Tuesday night to undergo tests for a high fever and bad cough, was released after midnight and diagnosed with a mild upper respiratory viral infection. The doctors recommended rest and medication.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman chaired the meeting in Netanyahu’s stead. The ministers were briefed on the situation by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Nadav Argaman, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

This was the second security cabinet meeting since Sunday dealing with threats of mass Palestinian action in the coming weeks. All the government ministers, and not only those in the security cabinet, were instructed not to talk about the planned Land Day protests, or how Israel will respond.

The reason, Hanegbi said, is that “words sometimes create reality, and the reality that is best for us is the calmest.”

Hanegbi said that the government understands the challenges the march presents, and that the security forces – based on experience – are prepared to meet them.

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