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On relations between the Palestinian resistance and Iran

Iranian women wave Palestinian and national flags during a march to condemn the ongoing Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, in the capital Tehran's Palestine square, on 19 May 2021. [STR/AFP via Getty Images]
Iranian women wave Palestinian and national flags during a march to condemn the ongoing Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, in the capital Tehran's Palestine square, on 19 May 2021. [STR/AFP via Getty Images]

We have witnessed a debate about the reasons that have led the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to draw closer to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and vice versa, despite differences in some aspects of the resistance struggle in the Middle East and on related issues to regional geopolitics.

I think the answer is that Hamas believes that the cause of Palestinian liberation must be the central issue of the forces fighting for rights and justice. In this sense, Iran occupies a prominent place in the so-called Axis of Resistance, which involves Iran, Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the People's Mobilization Forces (Kaitab Hezbollah) of Iraq, the Houthis of Yemen, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Popular Front, the Polisario Front of Western Sahara, among other movements.

The Islamic Republic of Iran's ties of friendship, cooperation, and support with the Palestinian resistance, although not so visible, have been continually tightening in the heat of the struggle against the Zionist colonial occupation. A step in the strengthening of this relationship was symbolized in a phone call from Iran's Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, to the head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, congratulating the movement on the 34th anniversary of its founding which was celebrated on 14th December.

Abdollahian described Hamas as a pioneer in the liberation of the holy city of Al Quds (Jerusalem) saying that, "Today, the resistance plays a key role in realising the historic rights of the Palestinian people." The Iranian minister condemned the position of Great Britain in designating Hamas as a "terrorist group," reflecting a clear position of ill will toward the Palestinian people.

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Haniyeh thanked and commended the invaluable support of former Al Quds Force Commander General Qasem Soleimani, who was martyred in a US terrorist attack near Baghdad airport on 3 January, 2020. "We remember General Soleimani with honour and appreciate the Islamic Republic of Iran's support of the Palestinian cause and resistance over the years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution."

The relationship with Iran has advanced with several Hamas delegations visiting Iran for bilateral talks aimed at supporting and modernising the military capacity of the Palestinian resistance. In January 2020, Haniyeh was the only non-Iranian personality to speak during General Soleimani's funeral when he called him "the martyr of Jerusalem."

Hamas' strategic relationship with Iran has provoked a hostile reaction from other regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. At the same time, this alliance has generated disagreements with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, who consider the policy of regional axes absolutely harmful to the Palestinians and, therefore, that Hamas should not get involved with the Iranians.

Despite the support, Iran does not offer a blank cheque to Hamas, because this relationship, while strategic, is fraught with complexities, given that the Iranians have reservations and fears about Hamas' relations and the extent to which its institutions can prevent further Iranian influence or eventual dependence of the movement on Iran.

Iranian students gather outside the UAE embassy in Tehran, Iran to protest a deal with Israel to normalise ties, on 15 August 2020 [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]

Iranian students gather outside the UAE embassy in Tehran, Iran to protest a deal with Israel to normalise ties, on 15 August 2020 [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]

Haniyeh has been engaged in a strategic dialogue between the Gulf countries, Iran, and other regional parties, including Lebanese Hezbollah, in order to redesign the geopolitical characteristics of the region to face the challenges and dangers that this entails. One of the consequences of this effort by the Hamas leader was the carrying out of joint military exercises by the Palestinian resistance forces in December 2020, which had Iranian cooperation.

Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahia Al-Sinwar, revealed, in a meeting with Palestinian journalists and activists that Iran has been providing the necessary resources for years for the military industrialisation of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. This provision took place even in the most critical period of the crisis between the movement and Iran as a result of the crisis in Syria. Iranian support allowed for the development of strategic weapons, including longer-range rockets and missiles such as the Ayyash 250-K and Qassam 400, developed and manufactured in Gaza territory and capable of reaching Tel Aviv and Haifa, the two most important cities of the territory assigned to "Israel."

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Iranian support came through direct intervention by General Qasem Soleimani with the Hamas leadership. It was through the general that Iran helped to equip the resistance, which was empty-handed, allowing for a better confrontation with the Zionist regime which, despite all its petulance, was forced to call for a ceasefire during the clash of May 2021 due to the resistance's new military capabilities and the use of its longer-range missiles.

Meanwhile, several authoritarian Arab regimes have openly worked to undermine the Palestinian resistance, targeting Hamas and other factions such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front and making large donations to the Palestinian Authority, which is accused of undermining the resistance efforts against the occupation. Some of these regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, impose all kinds of difficulties on Palestinians traveling through the Rafah Crossing, which is basically the only gateway to and from Gaza.

In the 14 December exchange, it appears that these relations were further consolidated with Abdollahian declaring that "Today, resistance plays a key role in realizing the historic rights of the Palestinian people," while Haniyeh extended his and the Palestinian people's warm greetings to the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Sayyed Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi.

The strategic meaning of this relationship can be translated in the message sent to Ismail Haniyeh by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he said that "the Islamic Republic of Iran, as in the past, has a religious and human duty based on the principles of the Islamic Revolution, and will spare no efforts to support the oppressed Palestinian people and restore their rights and drive away from the Palestinian people the false and usurping Zionist regime."

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

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