Shifting alliances in the Middle East By Pinhas Inbari

22 January 2013
A week ago, Hamas' weekly newspaper 'a-Risala' published an analysis of the incoming US administration which focused on the implications of the appointment of Chuck Hagel as the new secretary of defense. While the article realistically suggested that Hagel would not cut off America’s strategic relations with Israel, it raised the hope that this eventuality would happen one day.

Hamas believes Hagel would not permit Israel to launch another attack on Gaza, similar to Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense, and would also stop Israel short of attacking Iran. In the article’s concluding sentence, the writer expresses his hope that the Israeli-American alliance will disintegrate as a result of Hamas’ policy.

The source of Hamas’ expectations from the new administration is its conviction that President Obama will not abandon his belief in Political Islam, i.e. allying with the Muslim Brotherhood against the Salafists and al-Qaeda. Furthermore, Hagel’s past declarations tell Hamas that he will bring a more favorable approach to the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran. As Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood movement and an ally of Iran, these two characteristics of the incoming defense secretary give its leaders a hopeful outlook on the future of US policy in the Middle East.

That is also the reason why anti-Muslim Brotherhood regimes in the region may negatively evaluate the incoming administration. The outgoing administration has already ruffled feathers in the region by privileging the Muslim Brotherhood over Salafist and al-Qaeda actors. In Syria, Secretary Clinton, as a reaction to the assassination of the American ambassador in Libya, quickly began to lend support to rebuild the Syrian opposition leadership in the form of a new 'coalition', which installed a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muadh al-Khatib, at its head, and, at the same time, distanced all Salafists/al-Qaeda elements from the leadership echelon.

However, seeing that al-Qaeda’s Nusra forces in Syria have become a de facto military arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Clinton stated that the United States should consider re-shifting its focus away from the Middle East and toward the Far East. A few days ago, the administration declared it would support Japan in its dispute with China.

While Far East nations are receiving some support from the United States, the Gulf States are in an actual state of panic. Two weeks ago, the United Arab Emirates uncovered two Muslim Brotherhood terror cells that were planning a takeover of the oil-rich State. The emirates blamed the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for orchestrating the plot. The Persian Gulf states suspect that Egypt, instead of focusing on reforming its economy, will try and overtake the Gulf’s finances in order to climb out of the financial abyss.

With the United States sticking to the pro-Brotherhood Political Islam policy, the UAE is left to wonder how to defend itself against this newly formed alliance. Zahi Khalfan, Dubai security chief, has already suggested that the Gulf would create an alternative alliance with Russia and China.