Majed Azzam

Arab Spring, Fatah setbacks revive Hamas-Tehran ties

Between the downfall of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and inter-Palestinian difficulties, Hamas has been forced to reestablish its severed relations with Iran.

The Hamas flag, 16 January 2015 at Al-Aqsa Mosque (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

There has been a series of statements from Hamas movement leaders and officials recently on the revival of relations with Iran. On 28 December, Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, told the Quds Press news agency that the movement’s relations with Tehran — which he said were based on the Iranian position towards the Palestinian cause and support of the resistance — had returned to normal. A few days earlier (23 December) senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar also told Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar that the movement had resumed its relations with Iran. Zahar explained that relations had only broken down for a short period due to Iran’s stance on the Syrian revolution. He also stressed that no decision related to severing relations with Tehran had been made. Meanwhile, Mousa Abu Marzook, another senior Hamas official, wrote on his Facebook page that “relations with Iran are starting to [improve].” He said that there had been “a conflict of opinions and misunderstanding between the two parties” but that the reasons for the dispute had “ceased [to exist] and [all] points of contention have been resolved.” It is worth noting here that official Iranian channels have unwaveringly maintained calm language towards Hamas. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani even commended Hamas during an interview on Al-Mayadeen television in mid-March when relations were virtually at a standstill, confirming his country’s support for Hamas as a resistance movement and saying that relations had returned to normal.


It is now clear that relations have resumed, as evidenced by consecutive meetings and positive statements from both sides. This leads us to question the causes or reasons that have led to the resumption of increased communication, bearing in mind that Iran has unwaveringly promoted a return to normal relations and support for Hamas as a movement resisting Israeli occupation.


Tehran’s efforts to reestablish communication and affirm good relations with Hamas have been directly proportional to the level of Iranian intervention in more than one Arab state. Whenever the degree of Iranian regional involvement increases and the features of the ultra-sectarian axis or alliance it is leading in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen become clearer, it becomes more dependent on Sunni Arab cover. It needs this cover to camouflage the sectarian character of the aforementioned axis and increase its palatability. Contrary to what has been circulated in the media, Iran’s invitation to Khaled Mashal has been open for at least a year. Tehran has sought, using all possible means, to get him into a picture with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the belief that it would dispel much of the criticism against it as well as popular Arab-Muslim anger at the sectarian policies it is applying in the region.


The recent war in Gaza pushed Iran closer to a rapprochement with Hamas. It revealed Iran’s near-total lack of presence on the Palestinian front and confirmed what Tehran had been convinced of for a long time, even before the outbreak of the Arab revolutions: The Islamic Jihad Movement was too small and too weak to guarantee the necessary cover for the sectarian axis in both Palestine and the Arab world.


That concerns Iran. As for Hamas, it would be correct to say that the movement has found itself compelled to resume relations with Tehran after trying as hard as it could to avoid or delay drinking from the bitter and dangerous Iranian cup.


The movement — especially its external leadership — put its bets on the Arab revolutions from the beginning in the belief that they would change the regional power balance and produce positive results for the Palestinian cause, even if it didn’t happen immediately. Hamas also believed that the Arab revolutions would lead to the establishment of an Arab-Muslim Brotherhood axis that would allow it to do away with the Tehran-Damascus axis, with which it was on excellent terms; it ran parallel to the alliance but was never an integral part of it. Nevertheless, “the Hamas of the interior” and the Qassam Brigades in particular (which has a limited political presence through Mahmoud Zahar) has always called for the preservation of good relations with Tehran and its chief ally, Hezbollah, even after the Shiite party became involved in the Syrian regime’s battle. This current within the movement, which also takes a hardline position on Palestinian rapprochement, has sought to secure Iranian financial and military support in order to guarantee continued control over Gaza. It also hopes to accelerate the transformation of the Qassam Brigades into something resembling an army, following the Hezbollah model or even the model of the Palestinian Liberation Organization before they left Beirut in 1982 — a time when the gains made by that model still outweighed its disadvantages.


Despite this, the current has been unable to impose its will for political and practical reasons. Hamas’s political leadership both in and outside of Palestine — Ismail Hannieh and Khaled Meshaal for example — understands very clearly that pro-Hamas Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims support the Arab revolutions and reject Iran’s bloody involvement in the region.


Also, the revolutions themselves provided a serious alternative to Iranian financial and military support. The Egyptian revolution led to a leap forward in tunnel construction, even before Mohamed Morsi became president. At the same time, the Libyan revolution provided an alternative to Iranian weapons through the smuggling of large shipments from the warehouses of Qaddafi’s collapsed regime to Gaza via the Sinai — an area that was semi-lawless before the January revolution and became completely lawless afterwards.


The 30 June revolution and the election of General Sisi changed everything. The new Egyptian leadership made a decision to completely shut down the tunnels for good and pursued an aggressively harsh policy towards Hamas on the pretext that it had supported the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist movements in the Sinai. This caused the Gaza authorities’ sources of financial support to dry up and stopped the flow of weapons from Libya to the coastal enclave.


Despite this, the decision to resume relations with Iran was not inevitable. Both the internal and external political leadership tried to ward off and delay the Iranian choice as much as possible. Faced by an intensifying political and economic deadlock, Hamas tried to enact a rapprochement with Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (it should be noted here that the movement also saw the rapprochement as an inseparable part of the new Arab age). However, Abbas insisted on imposing near total submission on Hamas through the formula of overlooking disarmament in exchange for complete relinquishment of both civil and military power. He refused to compromise, even on the grounds of a political rather than administrative partnership with a fair, agreed-upon solution to the issue of civil servants and the short-sighted practices of anti-rapprochement elements inside Hamas. This caused reconciliation efforts to falter, even to stop, although they never actually hit a dead end.


Even this wasn’t enough to resume relations with Iran as far as Hamas’s political leadership was concerned. The movement was prepared to show patience and give the rapprochement with Fatah the time it needed. However, the Qatari-Gulf rapprochement and then the Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement changed the regional power balance in a major way. Doha has noticeably reduced its political, media and financial support for the Muslim Brotherhood. As for Abbas, he has taken a larger role in the Arab-regional alliance that opposes the Brotherhood and insists on weakening or even pushing it out of the political scene in general.


Tehran, which is hemorrhaging economically, politically and security-wise, is looking for some kind of presence in Palestine that will improve its position in the negotiation market with Washington and the West. It is also looking for a Sunni Arab banner to hide or divert attention from the sectarian axis it is leading. Hamas understands this well. It also understands that the term “resumption of relations” is highly ambiguous and that Iran is no longer able to pump financial support into Gaza or send large weapons shipments. This explains why differences of opinion on the Syrian revolution have been bypassed or neutralized and why Hamas has rejected changing its position or adopting the conspiracy narrative being spun by the Syrian regime and its allies. We can rightly say that a Palestinian rapprochement is still the first choice for internal and external Hamas leadership — there are a few dissenters but they confirm the matter rather than prove it to be untrue.


Nevertheless, Hamas may be forced to further develop the political principle established by Tunisia’s Ennahda movement of leaving government while staying in power. Perhaps it will have to relinquish power and governance of Gaza to concentrate on a political partnership with Fatah, even if only in a limited form, and develop a national unity that will allow for calm management of the conflict with Israel until the regional storms blow over. And of course that isn’t expected in the immediate or even foreseeable future.


This article was originally published by Al-Hayat and has been translated from the original Arabic by Ullin Hope 

Iran has unwaveringly promoted a return to normal relations and support for Hamas as a movement resisting Israeli occupation. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The movement was prepared to show patience and give the rapprochement with Fatah the time it needed. However, the Qatari-Gulf rapprochement and then the Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement changed the regional power balance."

  • Antityrant

    How long will it take for unrest to begin in Iran?

    January 27, 2015

  • manjarola

    Iran just fight against Israel, whit palestinian and lebanese blood.

    January 21, 2015

  • manjarola

    Hamas is over. Sissi did destroy the tunnels in Sinai, and hamas dont will guet iranian rockets. Sissi and Israel fight the same war against hamas. If Hamas be stupid to atack Israel again, them dont will have rockets 20 days to fight against Israel, because them did shot and Israel did destroy, 80% off this rockets in the last war. And the payback will be destroy the rest that survive in the last war. And nobody will put more 1 cents to help Gaza. And When Obama go out, Israel will have free hands to guive the payback whit more power that the last war.

    January 21, 2015