by Abdel Rahman Nassar and Hani Ibrahim, Al-Akhbar English
More than $250 million dollars were given annually to Hamas by Tehran. This allowed the movement to continue and resist international sanctions. However, this amount has become irrelevant after the latest war, which proved that Palestinians are only able to defend themselves through self-made weapons and supplies by the axis of Resistance to Gaza.
The relationship between Hamas and Iran goes back to 1991 and has grown gradually until the beginning of the crisis in Syria. Hamas took several positions, which distanced it from the axis. But today, the movement admits it has lost so much. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could no longer be of any help and Gaza does not share borders with Qatar or Turkey. Doha and Ankara’s largest ambitions for a Palestinian state is one inside the 1967 borders, which is the demand of Fatah, while only Iran dares to speak about the total liberation of Palestine.
Although dialogue between Hamas and Iran came after its links with Fatah and Islamic Jihad, their bonds grew during the second intifada and got stronger with the formation of the Hamas government in Gaza and following major financial support from the Islamic Republic.
The honeymoon did not last though, with the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011 and Hamas’ leadership’s exit from Damascus. However, the latest war fought by the movement alongside other factions for 51 days led to a state of Iranian alert. This brought the focus back to bilateral relations and how they can be improved, something that could also be felt within Hamas.
Sources inside Hamas maintained the existence of a trend inside the movement, especially in Gaza, to strengthen relations with Iran. Objectively speaking, however, it will be difficult to convince its popular base of the move, based on the position from Syria and Yemen and the growing belief that locally-made weapons and their own capacity are enough. But the latest developments in Qatar and Turkey could become a useful justification.
According to sources, countries expressing sympathy with Hamas, like Qatar and Turkey, are incapable of playing a military or security role, or even a clear political role. This is especially true for Turkey, “a member of NATO which could suffer embarrassment.” Hamas understood this three years ago, specifically when Ankara declined to host a meeting for the movement’s Shura Council, the sources explained.
As for Qatar, the sources added, the agreement included several understandings entailing a united stance on the current crisis and issues. Based on this, “the [Hamas] politburo was allowed to operate in Doha, but the Resistance could not be funded.” The sources revealed that a number of prisoners deported to Qatar had left the country, recently appearing on al-Aqsa television. “This was timed with talk about Qatari arrangement to go back into the fold of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
The war’s repercussions convinced Gaza’s leadership time and again that the only side willing to support Hamas militarily and officially is Iran. To that end, additional sources from the Hamas leadership revealed that meetings were held recently between Iranian and Hamas officials in Beirut. They resulted in “steps to enhance bilateral relations.” The sources indicated that the move was urged by politburo member Mahmoud al-Zahar. “We need to develop our tools of resistance and reorganize our relationships with states who could help and assist without a price.”
Even the pro-Qatar wing recently acknowledged Zahar’s position. The politburo’s second deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk said that Iran was the major player in “supporting the preparations for al-Asf al-Maakoul operation, through which the Palestinian Resistance faced the occupation using Iranian missiles as well as a locally-made rocket system simulating the Iranian one.”
“The current vision adopted by the Shura Council and some members of the political bureau requires that Hamas improve its relations with Iran in order for matters to return to how they were,” the Hamas sources reiterated. What should be noted is the call to improve the strategic environment of the “moderate countries,” especially Jordan and Egypt, allowing the movement to exit from its current crisis, which is considered the most severe.
Hamas official Ahmed Youssef described “internal discussions stressing the need to restore relationships with the Islamic Republic and Hezbollah.” In a press statement, he maintained that the movement owed Iran and “it is indispensable in any future arrangements.” Youssef believed that “Iran’s presence in the Palestinian scene was the most honest and it gave more than many in the region. It provided the Palestinians with millions of dollars without a fuss.” Regarding its absence from the Gaza reconstruction conference, Youssef said “whether it attended the conference or not, Iran’s contributions do not require an invitation.”
In a related matter, Islamic Jihad’s secretariat visited Tehran, meeting with the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ali Khamenei. Islamic Jihad representative in Lebanon Abu Imad al-Rifai said it was “an important [visit] to a pivotal state in supporting the Resistance.” It dealt with “issues of extreme priority, such as supporting the resilience of the people of Gaza as an extension of the battle.”
The meeting included Islamic Jihad’s Secretary-General Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, his deputy Ziad al-Nakhaleh, its representative in Tehran, and other officials. The two major points discussed related to Jerusalem and the situation in occupied West Bank. However, Rifai did not believe the visit “on this level and at this time, meant that Islamic Jihad will be replacing Hamas for the Islamic Republic. Although the latest battle increased the strength of the relationship, the media goes too far in its projections.” Concerning the relationship with Iran, “simply, one could say for sure that no one will replace anyone else; everyone has their own role,” Rifai told Al-Akhbar.
Regarding Iranian support for the reconstruction of Gaza, Islamic Jihad sources indicated “the support will compensate for some aspects and loopholes, which will not be covered by donor countries with certain conditions. It will also include humanitarian matters that are outside the focus of many.” As for delivering the aid, “the Resistance will use any means necessary.”
“Arming the West Bank,” however, raises the question of how and when? “After the experience of the three wars [on Gaza], we reached a belief that we could not liberate Palestine from Gaza,” Rifai explains. “The goal could only be achieved by arming the occupied West Bank and involving it in the struggle, with a focus on its strategic aspect, which could change the direction of the battle. In fact, the occupation remains in the West Bank to a large degree, through settlements and detention centers, which calls for a constant state of defence.”
What about Iran and Hezbollah
Iranian affairs expert and researcher at the Center of Strategic Studies in Iran and the Middle East, Moussa al-Kanani, said the Islamic Republic has a “steady position regarding support to the Palestinian questions and it cannot be changed. According to the constitution, the Supreme Leader forms the strategies and supreme policies of the state, including supporting Palestine.” According to Kanani, “centers of power in the Iranian state maintain that political and financial support to Hamas does not stop. Meetings between the two sides do not mention such details in the media, due to political and security measures. Iran is ready to receive Hamas’ politburo.”
Hezbollah expressed a similar viewpoint. Hassan Hobballah, in charge of the Palestinian dossier, maintained that relations will strengthen with all Palestinian factions “regardless of differing opinions, since resistance is a uniting factor.” Hobballah told Al-Akhbar that meetings were held between Hezbollah and Hamas recently and “there are continuous phone communications between Hassan Nasrallah and Khaled Mishal.”