U.S. Repeating Mideast Mistakes?

[Newsday] Steven A. Cook - Iran consistently has sought to use its position on the Palestine issue to extend its influence throughout the Middle East at the expense of U.S. allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Unlike those states, the Iranians have followed through with financial support. The $35 million that Hamas-affiliated Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was recently discovered carrying into Gaza was reported to be Iranian money. To the Iranians, assisting Hamas financially against Fatah is just another facet of what has become a successful effort to build Tehran's prestige among average Arabs. Washington's support for Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah is not only an effort to cripple Hamas, but also to blunt Iran's growing regional power. Abbas' defeat would cede yet another important part of the Middle East to Iranian influence, reinforcing the sense that the U.S., Israel and major Arab powers are on the defensive and unable to deter Iran's drive for power. On one level it makes sense to arm forces loyal to Abbas against Hamas, but the policy is based on the assumption that Fatah can either weaken Hamas or fight the organization to a draw. It is entirely possible that Hamas would prevail; after all, Hamas is better equipped and better organized than the Fatah-affiliated forces. The policy of training forces loyal to Abbas is in many ways similar to the mistakes the U.S. made in Iraq, where Washington essentially trained one set of militias to fight their rivals. The writer is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

2007-01-18 01:00:00

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