IN Iran, elements from within the regime are reportedly offering a $US1 million ($1.5 million) reward for the assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because of his opposition to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In Lebanon, the leader of Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, merely calls for the Egyptian Government's overthrow. In response to this, the editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed, describes Hamas as Tehran's tool and argues: "Iran is a real threat to Arab security."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit agrees, and he is not alone. When Arab states met to discuss the Gaza crisis, Saudi Arabia vetoed any action. Even the Palestinian Authority blames Hamas for the fighting. Activists in Hamas's Palestinian rival Fatah, which runs the authority, make no secret of their hope that Hamas loses the war.

Welcome to the new Middle East, characterised not just by the Arab-Israeli conflict, but by Arab nationalists versus Islamists. Recognising this reality, the Palestinian Authority and virtually all the Arab countries other than Iran's ally Syria, want to see Hamas defeated in the Gaza Strip.

Given their strong interest in thwarting Islamist revolutionary groups, especially those aligned with Iran, the Arab states are not inclined to listen to the "Arab street", which is far quieter than it was during previous conflicts, such as the 1991 war in Kuwait, the 2000-04 Palestinian uprising or the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

Today's Middle East is very different from the old one in many significant ways.

First, the internal politics of every Arab country revolves around a battle between Arab nationalist rulers and a radical Islamist opposition. In other words, Hamas's allies are the regimes's enemies. An Islamist state in the Gaza Strip would encourage those who seek to create similar entities in Egypt, Jordan and every other Arab country.

A tremendous price has been paid in lives and treasure for this nationalist-Islamist conflict. The violence has included civil wars among the Palestinians and Algerians, massive bloodshed in Iraq and terrorist campaigns in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

In the Palestinian case, after winning an election victory and making a deal with Fatah for a coalition government, Hamas turned on its nationalist rivals and drove them out of Gaza by force. In return, the Palestinian Authority has been repressing Hamas in the West Bank.
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