How Are Muslim Countries Reacting to Israel’s Gaza Bombing Campaign?

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (AP photo)

While Hamas continues to rain a barrage of rocket salvoes on Israeli civilians, from Cairo to Tehran, Israel’s Muslim neighbors and adversaries are lining up to condemn the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operation against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.

Here’s are highlights of how they’re reacting:

Egypt

How did the government of President Mohammed Morsi respond to Israel’s air campaign against Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological ally in Gaza?

Within hours, Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv, Atef Salem al-Ahl, back to Cairo. According to Reuters, the Israeli embassy staff had also left Cairo over concerns they could be endangered in case of a public backlash by Egyptians against the embassy in the wake of the military conflict next door.

In a televised address Thursday, President Mohammed Morsi called Israel’s attacks “unacceptable” and said they would lead to regional instability. He said:

We are in contact with the people of Gaza and with Palestinians and we stand by them until we stop the aggression and we do not accept under any circumstances the continuation of this aggression on the Strip […] The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region.

Morsi spoke to President Obama by phone, saying in his speech that the two discussed “ways to reach calm and end the aggression”.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yasser Ali was quoted by Al Masry Al Youm saying Morsi also requested urgent meetings of the Security Council and the Arab League and sent a protest letter to Israel.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, vowed a change in policy from what it considered complacence by former President Hosni Mubarak to past similar conflicts. Al Masry Al Youm reports (emphasis added):

The FJP described the assassination as a “crime that requires quick Arab and international action to stop these massacres against the Palestinian people besieged in the Gaza Strip.” […]

The party condemned the return of the policy of assassinations against leaders of the Palestinian resistance movements, saying that it “confirms that the Israeli occupation wants to drag the region into instability.”

Israel, according to the statement, “should be aware that the change witnessed in the Arab region, especially in Egypt, will not allow placing the Palestinian people under the Israeli aggression as was in the past.”

On Tuesday, a day before the military campaign began, the FJP legal committee was drafting an amendment to the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which it hopes to send to President Mohamed Morsi for review, according to Egyptian media reports.

Calling this round of violence one of Morsi’s greatest challenges since taking power, the Saudi-owned site Al Arabiya believes despite more heightened rhetoric, Morsi will not likely behave much differently than his secular predecessor Mubarak:

Contrary to its pre-power rhetoric, the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mursi are expect to exercise caution and self-restraint in response to the Israeli escalation in Gaza.

Professor Barry Rubin, a Middle East analyst with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, writes Hamas has gained much more confidence since the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt.  He writes (emphasis added):

Hamas openly came out as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and openly initiated attacks on Israel rather than merely permitting smaller groups–Islamic JIhad, Salafist groups, and al-Qaida affiliates–to do so.

The Egyptian regime tried but apparently failed to organize a ceasefire. The timing of a confrontation now is inconvenient for the new government which is seeking to consolidate power, including tightening its control over the military, taking over the official religious institutions, and producing a constitution. In future, though, it is more likely to back up Hamas either indirectly–letting money, weapons, terrorists, and Egyptian volunteer fighters- cross from Egypt into Gaza–or even through direct military intervention.

Neither side takes U.S. policy very seriously. The Egyptians and Hamas know that President Barack Obama will not take Israel’s side to the same extent as previous presidents while Israel knows it cannot depend on an energetic U.S. pressure on Egypt to tamp down on the terrorists.

Syria

Facing a military threat of his own, Syrian President Bashar Assad took a break from criticizing his domestic foes Thursday to bash Israel. A notorious violator of human rights, the Syrian government ironically employed similar words with which opposition forces have criticized it [see added emphasis below]. According to the Syrian News Agency (SANA):

The Syrian government denounced the barbaric, reprehensible crimes committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinian people in Gaza Strip on Wednesday which resulted in a number of martyrs and injured.

In a statement, the government called on the international community to pressure Israel into ceasing its aggression on the people of Gaza Strip, imploring the free and honest people of the world to move seriously to confront this tyranny and repel Israel which constantly ignores international legitimacy and shirks international resolution in blatant violation of international law.

Syrian opposition leaders have a conspiracy theory of their own, suggesting the Israeli military operation is designed to prop up President Bashar Assad by shifting attention away from the Syrian civil war. Al Arabiya interviewed Syrian opposition leaders and reports:

Anas al-Abdi, a Syrian National Council (SNC) official, told Al Arabiya that the opposition was “always skeptical of the Israeli stance on Syria,” adding that “any new front in Gaza will lighten the burden on the Syrian regime and shift Arab and international attention away from its crimes.”

The Syrian crisis has topped regional and international media agenda for more than a year, prompting a steady buildup of pressures against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian opposition groups are worried that the break-up of a war in the region will relegate their cause to second place in the global agenda.

Abdi said if the military action on Gaza continues, it would be with the Israeli intention to buy more time and leeway for the embattled Assad to collect himself against a daring armed opposition.

[…] Bassam Ishak, a key member of the Syrian National Council and General Secretariat, said Assad is always a favorite of Israel because he helps ensure its security despite his continuous claims of being anti-Israel.

No mention from Syrian opposition figures of Israel’s firing earlier this week at a Syrian military outpost after Assad’s forces fired some errant shells onto the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. Nor do they mention how Israel might benefit from a weakening of President Assad, who for years has facilitated the work of the Jewish state’s arch-foe Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran

Moving east, Iran joined in condemning Israel’s “barbaric” and “brutal” nature. The Iranian news agency, Fars, reports:

Iran on Wednesday condemned the Zionist regime’s fresh strikes on the Gaza Strip, describing the attacks as another example of the regime’s “barbaric nature”. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast deplored the Zionist regime’s assaults on the coastal enclave which have resulted in the killing and injuring of dozens of civilian Palestinians, and said the onslaughts are another “sign of the regime’s brutal nature”.

Hamas

Beyond the barrage of rockets on southern Israeli towns, Hamas continued its threats of inflicting a heavy price on Israel, adding that it has erased all “red” lines in terms of moderating its own response:

Spokesman of the Palestinian Hamas Movement Sami Abu Zuhri condemned Israel’s terror attack on Hamas military chief, Ahmad al-Jabari, and warned that the Zionist regime will pay a heavy price for its heinous crime. “The Zionist regime will pay a heavy price for the assassination of Al-Jabari”, the deputy chief commander of the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of the Hamas Movement, Abu Zuhri said on Wednesday. […]

Also, the Quds Brigades – the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement – announced that Israel should take full responsibility for its crime, and added that it will not restrict itself to any redline in reacting to this assassination.

Hezbollah

While Gaza sits to the south of Israel, Islamic extremists who populate south Lebanon over Israel’s northern border weighed in. Hezbollah released this statement regarding the “barbaric Zionist aggression” on its English website. Notice how Hezbollah’s website refers to “Israel” only in quotation marks. It also took the opportunity to lambaste the Obama administration:

The Zionist barbaric aggression and crimes against the Gaza Strip is a desperate attempt to break the will of the resistance.

In parallel, “Israel” is trying to compensate for its loss of morals after the resistance heroes ripped the Zionist prestige and ability to decisiveness, through imposing new equations in the field. […]

Moreover, Hizbullah condemns the US position that supported the aggression. It further views that such support as well the international community’s failure to perform its duties constitutes a full partnership with the enemy in shedding the blood of the Palestinian people.

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