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Hamas and Iran: More than an understanding, not quite a complete alliance

January 17, 2020 at 12:14 am

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) meets with the political supremo of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal (L), in Tehran [Noon Post]

The Palestinians and Iranians are still reading the consequences of the US assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force on Iraqi soil, in early January. This occurred amid great interaction, especially Hamas and Iran, as the movement used this event to try to restore its relationship with Tehran, which has been somewhat lukewarm in recent years.

The head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Tehran, with a high-level leadership delegation. This is his first visit to Tehran since 2012, thus giving the current visit exceptional importance. Haniyeh’s visit indeed came in the form of protocol participation in Soleimani’s funeral. Still, his appearance in the ceremonies was noted, as he was the only non-Iranian figure who spoke during the service, which carried important indications from Iran.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh informs Hanna Nasser, head of the Palestinian Central Election Commission, that Hamas agrees to the plan for holding Palestinian elections [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh informs Hanna Nasser, head of the Palestinian Central Election Commission, that Hamas agrees to the plan for holding Palestinian elections [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Moreover, Haniyeh called Soleimani a “martyr of Jerusalem, which caused intense controversy and debate, even within Hamas itself.

In addition to this, Haniyeh visited Soleimani’s home in Tehran to pay his respects to his family, and Soleimani’s daughter mentioned Haniyeh in her speech at her father’s memorial, as being capable of avenging her father. Haniyeh and the Hamas leadership held their visit meeting with the new commander of the Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, Soleimani’s successor.

While Haniyeh telephoned the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, offer his condolences for Soleimani’s killing, Haniyeh’s deputy, Salih Al-Arouri, visited the Iranian ambassador in Beirut to console him, and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, organised condolences tents for Soleimani.

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All of this involvement on Hamas’s part in a purely Iranian matter would prompt realistic political analysis and say that the issue goes beyond condolences and paying respect. Hamas desires to turn a new leaf on the lukewarm relations with Tehran, which began with the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, and which gradually started to recover in 2017.

More dangerous than all of the aforementioned indications is the new unprecedented development in the history of Hamas’s relations with Iran, represented by the Iranian Aerospace force commander General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, holding a press conference to explain the details of the Iranian attack on the American base in Ayn Al-Assad in West Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination.

It is interesting that the Iranian general placed behind him several banners of the Iranian armed forces in the region, the most important of which are: Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq, Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas in Syria, and Liwa Fatemiyoun in Afghanistan, and suddenly the banner of Hamas in Palestine appeared. This is the first time the movement’s flag is placed during an Iranian military speech, which caused a great deal of controversy among the Palestinians, with some surprised, some refused the matter, and others found it strange.

The truth is that this Iranian move to place the Hamas flag among the flags of its armed militias in the region was not met with Hamas’s approval, meaning it was placed without the movement’s permission, to my knowledge. The movement did not comment negatively or positively in this regard, because each comment has a price, forcing it to remain silent. This is because the movement is repairing its relationship with Iran and does not want to enter an argument with it for placing its flag, despite the fact that the matter carries indications from Iran, albeit not from Hamas.

At the same time, Yahya Al-Sinwar, Hamas leader in Gaza, revealed during his meeting with several Palestinian journalists and activists, that Iran is providing tens of millions of dollars for military industrialisation of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, even in light of the tension between Hamas and Iran due to the Syrian crisis. Iran’s support continued despite this thanks to the efforts of Qasem Soleimani with the Iranian leadership.

As for the newspaper, Al-Ahed, which is close to Hezbollah, it confirmed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards spent about $48 million on Hamas’s military industrialisation in 2015, at the height of Iran’s financial crisis, and the worst point in relations between Tehran and Hamas. This amount exceeds Iran’s support for all Palestinian factions within a full year.

While the Israeli economic newspaper, The Marker confirmed that the Revolutionary Guard and the Qods Force continued to support the Palestinian factions with money and weapons, despite the financial crisis in Iran.

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No doubt offering such figures at this particular time may indicate an Iranian tendency to increase financial and military support for Hamas, especially after the historic visit to Haniyeh. However, this Iranian economic and military support provided to Hamas is only directed at military industrialisation and the production of combat materials. However, at the same time, it poses the theory of the extent of Iran’s ability to continue such support after Washington imposed new sanctions on it after bombing the Ayn Al-Assad base in Iraq in protest to the economic conditions.

Regardless of whether Iranian support increases after Haniyeh’s visit to Tehran or remains the same, Hamas sees Haniyeh’s visit as a watershed in its relations with Iran, which is its primary and exclusive supporter for weapons and combat equipment. Hence, the movement is committed to Iran and looks forward to strengthening its relations with it to a degree close an alliance, despite the differences between them over several regional matters and Hamas’s desire to distance itself from any axes or extreme polarisations in the region.

A file photo dated September 18, 2016 shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani during Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s meeting with Revolutionary Guards, in Tehran, Iran.
[Pool/Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office /Anadolu Agency]

Meanwhile, circles close to Hamas believe that Haniyeh’s rush to participate in Soleimani’s funeral may not only be an indicator of the movement’s desire to continue to receive Iranian financial and military support, as much as it is a desire to establish a real alliance with Tehran that goes beyond the circle of friendship and understandings. This would take relations to the next level, from financial and military interests to the possibility of strategic engagement with Iran, which would make Hamas at the centre of regional politics in the region, despite reiterating the independence of its decision.

Despite all these caveats and concerns, it has become clear that Hamas has made its choice by aligning itself with Iran, because it supports it politically, militarily and in the media, and strategic considerations calculate their closeness despite their sharp differences regarding the Syrian issue. However, at the same time, Iran will not give Hamas open cheques, as there are many problems and complexities in their relationship. While the core of their understanding is resisting Israel, Iran has reservations about Hamas. It fears it because Hamas’s organisational institutions are strong and prevent it from being dependent on Iran.

Palestinian and Iranian predictions and assessments vary in describing the current relationship with Hamas, between being an explicit formal alliance, or high-level understandings and friendships between the two sides. It is true that an alliance may give the movement more Iranian support. At the same time, it may have many consequences for its involvement in the Iranian axis’ regional policies. This may bring about a more hostile policy towards Hamas from some countries in the region, especially from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their Gulf allies.

While Hamas and Iran have regional differences regarding the issues of Syria and Iraq, and the relationship with the Gulf states, their relationship regarding the Palestinian issue is close to an alliance against the common Israeli enemy. It is not directed against any Arab country, and it aims to unify efforts to confront the occupation. So long as Iran has the practical willingness and preparedness to support the resistance, it is welcomed by Hamas, as long as it has not asked the movement to use its relationship with it to offend any Arab party.

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The final say in Hamas today is that Haniyeh’s visit succeeded in achieving most of what the movement aspires to from Iran after their relationship suffered a decline without being severed. It constituted a leap in the process of deepening their relationship until it went back to how it was in the past. The visit underlined the agreement of both sides on the Palestinian issue, without addressing the regional issues they do not agree on while noting that Hamas has been hesitant lately regarding the demand to remove American forces from the region. This is an Iranian demand, especially after Soleimani’s assassination, although the demand was not openly present on Hamas’s political agenda.

It is worth noting that other Palestinian circles, such as the PA and the governing Fatah party, consider the regional axes policy as harmful to the Palestinians and that Hamas should not be involved in them. They believe that Soleimani’s assassination is part of an American-Iranian battle that the Palestinians have no interest in, which is practically translated in the PA’s lack of position on the assassination.

Despite Haniyeh’s visit, the statements of solidarity and condolences for Soleimani, and talk of relations between Hamas and Iran almost going back to normal, it does not seem that the movement is planning to avenge Soleimani’s assassination with armed attacks against Israel. The assassination is a huge and significant occurrence, and impulsive reactions may not be useful. However, if Iran is subjected to American and Israeli attacks after it seeks revenge for the assassination of its military leader, its fronts in southern Lebanon and southern Palestine may be forced to enter this large-scale battle, which Iran hopes will be the battle of the entire axis is leads, and not on particular party, without this necessarily being Hamas’s true position.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.