Late last month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met in Beirut to discuss the 11-day conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip. While the conflict was the topic of conversation, the discussion also focused on counterbalancing Egypt’s growing role in the region, with the aim of boosting Iran’s regional influence. The North African country played an important mediating role during the recent conflict, helping to broker a ceasefire, and its regional power appears to be growing. Given this, Iran perceives Egypt as a major threat to its geopolitical agenda.
The recent 11-day conflict is the latest in the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine. At least 254 people were killed along with immense infrastructure damage in both Israel and the Gaza Strip. While Egypt played a critical role in negotiating the ceasefire, the country has been in this situation before. In 2014, it helped broker a truce after weeks of war between Israel and Hamas. Over the past year, numerous Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, have normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, sparking backlash from the Palestinian territories. This placed Egypt in a unique position to broker peace between the two warring parties.
During the recent talks between Nasrallah and Haniyeh, however, the two leaders sought to undermine Egypt’s role in the current ceasefire and counterbalance its broadening influence. This is because Egypt’s geopolitical agenda is not aligned with Tehran, as Iran is the primary backer of Hamas and Hezbollah, something Egypt is firmly against. Hamas is a militant group based in the Gaza Strip, receiving backings from Qatar and Iran. Tehran supplies Hamas with weapons and funding and intends to exert control over the conflict’s mediation efforts. Similarly, Iran also backs Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party and designated terrorist organization based in Lebanon. Hezbollah has established significant political and military power in the country, and it has promoted Iranian ideals in the region, including anti-Western sentiment. Both Hamas and Hezbollah act as proxies for Iran in the Middle East.
According to individuals familiar with the June dialogue, the two leaders discussed how they could align Iran and Hamas’ regional agendas and continue to promote Iranian influence in the Middle East in the wake of normalization efforts with Israel. Haniyeh particularly expressed an interest in obfuscating Egypt’s role in establishing a ceasefire between the Palestinian Islamist movement and Israel. In doing this, Iran would be able to demonstrate it retains control over Hamas, and it would be able to counterbalance Egypt and Israel’s expanding influence in the region.
The recent talks between Nasrallah and Haniyeh are a strong reflection of Iran’s desire to continue expanding its prowess in the Middle East and undermining the presence of Egypt.