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Mid-East Cold War Continued: Ahmedinejad and Feltman in Damascus

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Damascus yesterday. According to reports , while in Syria, Ahmadinejad was scheduled to meet with the heads of ten resident Palestinian terrorist organizations. At a joint press conference on Tuesday May 5th with his guest, Syrian President Bashar Asad, emphasized that the bilateral relationship with Tehran was "strategic."

The same day that Ahmadinejad was in Damascus, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Cairo, assuring the Egyptians that US efforts to improve relations with Tehran would not come at the expense of Washington's traditional allies in the region.

Ahmadinejad's Syria trip comes just weeks after Cairo went public with the arrest of a large Hizballah cell on Egyptian territory. According to Egyptian authorities, the cell was smuggling weapons to Hamas in Gaza and preparing operations against Israeli tourists and Suez Canal shipping.

The backdrop for all of these developments is the regional competition, pitting the "axis of resistance"--Iran, Syria, Qatar, Hizballah, and Hamas--against the more moderate pro-west states Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. This is a battle for regional influence, currently being fought out in the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Given current regional dynamics, Cairo's announcement of the Hizballah cell arrest appears to be intended as a warning to Tehran. Meanwhile, two US officials--Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and top Middle East NSC official Daniel Shapiro arrive in Damascus today for meetings.

I have an article in this issue of the Weekly Standard discussing the Egypt arrests that can be found here.

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