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Iran’s pressure on Meshaal unifies Hamas in support of him

February 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm

The rapprochement between Hamas and Iran recently peaked as the two sides began their preparations for the visit of Khaled Meshaal to Tehran in late December 2014. Without warning, however, the planned visit experienced a setback when media outlets close to Hezbollah and Iran published press reports that contributed to the “temporary” disruption of their relations.

This first began when a Lebanese media outlet with links to Hezbollah said that the purpose of Meshaal’s visit was to obstruct Iran’s rapprochement with Hamas, based on his condition that he would only travel to Iran if guaranteed a meeting with both Iranian supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Hamas immediately denied the allegations, and stated that the report was fabricated and false.

On the same day, leaks were published in Tehran regarding the Iranian conditions to restore relations with Hamas, which included the resignation of Meshaal as leader of the movement and saying that Hamas is in no position to set conditions for how Meshaal will be received in Tehran. The danger of this Iranian report is the fact that it was published on the Revolutionary Guard’s website, the military wing supervised by General Mohsen Rezai, and therefore reflects the state’s official policy.

Although Iran and its allies wanted to target Meshaal by means of a media campaign, Hamas confirmed through a number of its leaders that they continue to support Meshaal and that they will not overstep him in order to restore relations with Tehran. However, they did not enter into debates with the media for fear of further deteriorating the relationship with Iran.

The intense debates regarding the Iranian attack on Meshaal inevitably spread to social networking sites, spawning contradictory reactions from supporters of either side. On the side of Hamas, commentators considered these attacks to be an unprecedented Iranian interference in Hamas’s internal affairs and an unacceptable attack on Meshaal, even if they disagree with him on some issues.

The absent voice in the recent media sparring match between Hamas and Iran is the voice of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, which has remained silent about the attack on Meshaal. This is despite the fact that the Brigades benefit the most from renewed ties with Tehran as they need its military support. However, it is clear that they will not receive a single bullet from anyone without a full cover from the political leadership of the movement, which is led by Meshaal.

Al-Qassam Brigades represents just one of Hamas’s wings, not the entire movement, and therefore is bound by the decisions of the organisation’s institutions. The Brigades will support any decision to restore relations with Iran in favour of the resistance, but it is commitment to the cohesion and unity of the movement, its organisational structure, and its symbolic leadership will not be exchanged for anything else.

Iran’s first official comment on this tension with Hamas came from the Iranian media, which reported that the arrangements for Meshaal’s visit to Tehran are the responsibility of the Iranians, and it is not Meshaal’s job to lay down the rules for his reception, in reference to his alleged conditions of meeting with Khamenei and Rouhani.

However, Iran’s claims Hamas regarding Meshaal’s agenda for his visit to Tehran have been denied by Hamas. The movement confirmed that the main reason for the undecided visit is not a matter of protocol or procedure, despite its importance; it is a political matter related to Iran’s desire to force Meshaal to take a position on the Syrian issue.

It is clear that Iran clearly wants to use Meshaal’s long overdue visit to pressure Hamas to back down from some of its previous positions and publically support President Bashar Al-Assad, a difficult position for the movement to take in light of the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.

This media campaign against Meshaal confirms the existence of an influential group in Iran and Hezbollah that does not want to renew ties with Hamas, due to the lack of internal agreement in Beirut and Tehran, and due to their desire to satisfy their ally in Damascus who does not want a rapprochement with Hamas or wants to exclude Meshaal from the relationship.

The internal debates within Hamas in Gaza, Beirut, and Doha (the locations of the movement’s decision-making circles) confirm that if they were to choose between preserving Hamas’s organisational unity under Meshaal’s leadership and renewing its alliance with regional forces, including Iran, they would prefer the first option, but do not want to abandon the desire of acquiring better foreign relations. However, this clearly means that Meshaal’s visit to Tehran will be postponed until further notice, without cutting the thin thread holding them together.

Translated from Felesteen newspaper, 22 February, 2015