Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hamas returns to the start

Divided from its “resistance” allies Iran and Hizbullah over Syria, Hamas appears to be inching back into the Iranian fold, writes Ramzy Baroud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite its success in repelling Israeli military advances in Gaza, Hamas’s regional political strategies of recent years are not bearing fruit. Jointly isolated by Israel and other Arab parties, unaided by the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is once again facing difficult choices. It seems to be choosing a cautious return to its old camp of Iran and Hizbullah. The manoeuvre this time is particularly risky.

Hamas’s other options, however, are too limited or simply don’t exist. The movement is facing formidable challenges: a ruined economy, ruined infrastructure, destroyed Rafah tunnels and a continued Israeli siege.

The progress of the Hamas-Fatah agreement last year, followed by the formation of a new government, were meant to be prerequisites to other anticipated moves, including the reformation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The once promising push for unity was interrupted by Israel’s massive war, the so-called Operation Protective Edge, which killed and wounded thousands. The war also left the already distraught Gaza in its worse shape yet.

Instead of speedily setting up government ministries in Gaza, funnelling money into the devastated Strip and beginning the reconstruction process, the Ramallah-based government of Rami Hamdallah delayed everything in what could only be understood as political reasoning. Without an outlet, however restricted, Gaza will not be able to cope for much longer.

Hamas’s attempt to engage Egypt, as a way of finding an alternative space to break the siege, has not achieved results either. Egypt declared Hamas a terrorist organisation last March. More recently, the military wing of Hamas, the Izz El-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, found itself banned and accused of “terrorism” by an Egyptian court.

With the tunnels destroyed and a “buffer zone” being established and fortified around the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian side of the border, the siege is now complete.

Yet Gaza could have survived, except that the Israeli war has left behind thousands of homeless families, over 11,000 wounded and living in poverty.

A donors’ conference in Cairo last year pledged to rebuild Gaza, but few have delivered. The United Nations and the Arab League are back appealing for aid promises to be met. But even if they are, the US and its allies insist that the money not be channelled through Hamas.

So, what is Hamas to do?

Prior to so-called Arab Spring in 2011, the region was divided in two political camps. One is known as the “axis of resistance”, also the “rejectionist” camp. It consists of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. The other is the camp of “moderates”, which pools US regional allies. The latter was positioned to offset the former.

There was, of course, the Sunni-Shia divide, but it was hardly as pronounced as it is today. The existence of Hamas, a Sunni organisation within a largely Shia-group, and the clear demarcation of the fight that is between the US-Israel versus the “axis of resistance” relegated any sectarian difference insignificant.

Initially, the Arab Spring brought ample promise, before it dealt the whole region a massive blow. It wrought war and other bloody conflicts, but also unprecedented political and sectarian polarisation.

A war in Syria seemed like a best-case scenario for various Western powers, including the US and Israel. Iran, Russia and Arab countries jumped into the fray, each with a different set of objectives. For Iran, war arguably became its opportunity to extend its regional influence. With Hizbullah joining the fighting — which by then included numerous groups that are homegrown and foreign — the Sunni-Shia side of the conflict became palpable.

Neither side would have allowed Hamas to operate outside the ugly sectarian paradigm anyway. The group was expected to take sides, and quickly.

Meanwhile, Palestinians remained disunited even when their unity mattered most. Abbas’s PA remained engaged in an inane “peace process” discourse, paying little attention to the thousands of dead and starving Palestinian refugees in Syria.

Hamas’s gamble didn’t pay off in the least. Further impoverished and isolated, Hamas sought respite by joining forces with Abbas’s Fatah, to end division and seek an outlet from what became a hopeless paradigm.

Then, Israel attacked Gaza. The media discussion was centred on Hamas’s unproven connection to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenage settlers. That was rarely the story. With Hamas’s departure from the “axis of resistance” and its isolation by the “moderate” Arab camp, the movement was at its weakest.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu found an opportunity to deliver a final blow to Hamas as he hit Gaza with unmatched brutality. He intended to break Hamas politically before degrading its military capabilities.

The massive destruction of Gaza infrastructure was not Israel’s everyday callousness in its treatment of Palestinians. It was meant to ensure that Hamas would have no chance to govern Gaza after the war, and would simply collapse under the impossible task of rebuilding the Strip, with no aid, no cement and no material lifeline whatsoever.

Arabs were either consumed with their own problems or watched Gaza’s severe punishment by Israel with a mix of dread, amusement and anticipation. Those who urged Hamas to part ways with Iran failed to move forward and fill the existing gap of weapons, money and other material aid.

Not only did many in Hamas see that as a betrayal, others who had never sought a breakup with Iran began pushing the movement to reconsider its political alliances once more.

In fact, the process of mending ties with Iran has been in the making for months, and many, however slight, signs of some kind of rapprochement between Iran and Hizbullah, on the one hand, and Hamas, on the other, have been adding up towards a foreseeable conclusion.

When an Israeli helicopter gunship hit a car convey in the Syrian province of Quneitra on 18 January, killing six Hizbullah fighters along with an Iranian commander, Hamas was quick to offer condolences. The most notable of these messages came from Mohamed Al-Deif, the leader of Al-Qassam Brigades. Deif called for a joint battle against Israel.

Political messages also poured in, one from former Hamas government Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “We declare our full solidarity with Lebanon and the Lebanese resistance,” he said, calling for unity against the “principal enemy of the ummah [Islamic nation].”

This, in addition to Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal’s call for peaceful resistance in Syria, indicating that Hamas’s search for a return to the Iranian camp was only a matter of time.

In fact, that return will happen sooner rather than later, as suggested by Ahmed Yousef, Haniyeh’s former top advisor and an influential member in the movement. He said that Meshal should be heading to Tehran soon to meet with top Iranian leaders.

Hamas’s possible return to the Iran camp is likely to be cautious, calculated and possibly costly. There is a crisis of trust among all parties. For some in Hamas, however, that return was inevitable.

But Iran and Hizbullah also need Hamas, at least to break away from the dominant sectarian narrative that has embroiled the region. Iran and Hizbullah’s image, the latter once seen as the bulwark of resistance, is at an all-time low.

 Some will chastise Hamas’s new strategy; others will praise its return to common sense. But for Hamas and Palestinian resistance in Gaza, it is a simple matter of survival.


The writer is founder of PalestineChronicle.com.

add comment

  
 
 
  • follow us on