The sudden flare-up involving Gaza and its Islamist leaders is also testing US influence in a region where the Arab Awakening has deposed a number of autocratic leaders more disposed to upholding a US-led system of security and stability – including former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – in favor of Islamist-led governments.
Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, as does Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization that governs Gaza. The rockets crashing into southern Israel have been lobbed by a collection of militant Islamist groups operating in Gaza, including some aligned with Iran. But after the Israelis launched retaliatory air strikes, including a strike that killed the Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, Hamas has continued the barrage of rocket fire into Israel and the fighting has largely boiled down to a battle between Israel and Hamas.
Morsi has made his sympathies clear on Egyptian television, lamenting the spilling of Palestinian blood and railing against what he calls the Israeli “aggression.” But privately he is apparently sounding more amenable to trying to convince Hamas to stand down, perhaps by accepting a cease-fire. Morsi has spoken by phone with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton several times this week, US officials say.
This is where Morsi’s head comes in. Egypt depends on the US for some $1.5 billion in annual assistance, not to mention Washington’s advocacy before international financial institutions – including the International Monetary Fund, where Egypt currently has a $4.5 billion loan under consideration.