Iran has rapidly emerged as the state-to-watch in the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has already killed over 9,500 Palestinians, including more than 6,400 women and children. Tehran has long supported Hamas, Israel’s bete noire, especially following the group’s Oct. 7 infiltration into southern Israel that triggered the latest attempt at “cleansing” Gaza of Palestinians. Founded in 1987 after the outbreak of the First Intifada, Hamas—designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union—took over Gaza after defeating the Fatah political party in Gaza in 2006. It has enjoyed significant support from Iran, with fears now mounting that if Tehran joins the ongoing conflict, the situation could spiral into an intra-Islamic conflict, with Sunni Arab nations opposing Iran in a bid to counter the proxy groups it has backed for decades.
Despite recent attempts to revive ties, Iran’s relations with its neighboring Arab states continue to be uneasy. Its support for Hamas, especially in the current conflict, has enhanced its revolutionary credentials among Arabs and the wider Muslim world, transcending the Sunni-Shia divide, but troubling governments whose response to the Israeli aggression has been found lacking by their citizens. Key to this issue is the United States’ unflinching support to Israel, boosting anti-American sentiments in Muslim states while placing its allied countries such as Saudi Arabia in a bind over how best to maintain their bilateral ties without abandoning the Palestinian cause.
In recent weeks, Washington has accused Iran and Iran-backed forces of threatening U.S. interests and seeking to destabilize the region through their support for Palestinians. In response, Iran has accused the U.S. of attempting to oust its government through military force and economic pressure. Last month, a U.S. Navy destroyer deployed in the Red Sea intercepted and shot down four cruise missiles fired on Israel from Yemen by Iran-backed Houthi fighters, indicating the global fears of an expanding war. Unsurprisingly, no one wants to be dragged into a wider Middle Eastern conflict that brings Iran and Israel, and by extension the U.S., into direct confrontation. Unfortunately, the prevailing global polarization—with Western governments siding with Israel and the rest supporting Palestine—ensures that any view of the shifting Middle Eastern political map would be colored by bias, all the while Palestinians continue to be butchered by Israel with the blessing of the U.S. and Europe.