Already, however, there have been demonstrations in other countries protesting Israel’s actions. In Jordan, 88 members of the lower house of parliament voted for a resolution calling for the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador if Israel did not lift its blockade; 22 deputies requested the annulment of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel. Demonstrators burned the Israeli flag, and thousands of university students marched in support of the Palestinians.
Similarly, thousands of people demonstrated in Egypt, which also has a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt is coming in for special criticism because the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, visited just before the assault, leading to accusations that Egypt gave Israel a green light. In addition, Egypt borders Gaza and is therefore in a position t o provide assistance.
The critical nature of Jordan and Egypt was highlighted by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Today the heart of the Egyptian, Jordanian and the people of other Islamic countries is overwhelmed with sorrow,” he said in a statement released December 28. “Now, I ask the scholars and Alims of the Arab world and the chiefs of the Egyptian al‐Azhar center ‘isn’t it the time to feel the threat facing Islam and Muslims?’ ” By phrasing the issue in this way, Mr. Khamenei is trying to broaden the conflict, taking advantage of popular sentiment. He is reaching over the heads of the governments, appealing to respected religious authorities and to the peoples themselves, and he is redefining the conflict: It is not Israel v. Hamas; it is an assault on “Islam and Muslims.” That is not merely the talk of resistance, it is instigation to revolution.
Indeed, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged the significance of such rhetoric. “I’m not calling for a coup d’etat,” he said on December 28, addressing the Egyptian people (and their army), “but go talk to your leaders and tell them you do not accept what is happening in Gaza.” Can such an appeal work?
Much is made of the difference between Sunni and Shiite, but the question is whether pictures of Gaza in flames will allow Iran to overcome these differences and help forge a new identity based on confronting Israel and its allies. “Nasrallah, who is also a powerful Shia symbol, now enjoys the admiration and respect of the vast majority of the Arab world’s public opinion, which ironically is largely Sunni,” Egypt’s Al Ahram reported after Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel. Regarding Egypt specifically, a senior Arab official advised: “Don’t underestimate the significance of Hizbullah flags and posters of Nasrallah in an Arab capital like Cairo.” The situation now recalls the famous metaphor about nationalism: It is like a twig that bends until suddenly, and unpredictably, it snaps back.