Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Hamas and Iran: Rapprochement?

Hamas is seeking to mend relations with its former ally Iran, to end Gaza’s financial crisis and regional isolation, but Syria remains the main sticking point, writes Ahmed El-Sayed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hamas had strong ties with Tehran as part of what was known, before the Arab Spring revolutions, as the “Axis of Resistance” that included Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbullah. Bilateral relations deteriorated, however, at the start of the Syrian conflict in mid-March 2011.

This was because of Hamas’s support of the Syrian people’s demands for freedom and democracy. It also opposed the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who is a close ally of Iran. Hamas’s politburo chief, Khaled Meshal, relocated from Damascus to Qatar’s capital Doha in 2012. This resulted in a serious drop in Iranian funding to Hamas.

Political analysts believe restoring relations will take some time. The greatest obstacle is Hamas’s gamble that Al-Assad will fall. It distanced itself from the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbullah alliance, and drew closer to the Qatar-Turkey-Gulf trio. Hamas’s attempt to restore relations with Iran is in the very early stages, and reconciliation may be hindered by international efforts to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.

According to experts, the deal will either result in Iran becoming more powerful and sending more funds and weapons to Hamas, or it will draw closer to Washington and the West, which may require it to distance itself from Hamas as a price for Washington agreeing that Tehran can play a regional role.

There are signs that relations are improving after Israel’s recent assault on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, including a visit by a Hamas delegation to Tehran in December and praise by the group’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, for Iranian support. However, the two sides have yet to agree on a date for a visit by Meshal to Tehran “to repair relations” with Iran.

Adnan Abu Ammar, a Palestinian writer and political analyst, believes rapprochement between Hamas and Iran gained momentum in the past few months, as both sides began to prepare for Meshal’s visit to Tehran. However, there was a sudden setback when media close to Hezbullah and Iran published reports that strongly criticised Hamas leaders.

“Contrary to the goal of Iran and its allies to target Meshal in the media, Hamas leaders rallied to support Meshal and refused to bypass him in return for restoring relations with Tehran,” Abu Ammar explained. “However, Hamas leaders did not go on the record on the subject to prevent further deterioration in relations with Iran.”

According to Hamas sources, problems facing Meshal’s visit to Tehran are not protocol based, but political reasons regarding Iran’s desire to extract a position from him on the Syrian issue, that may even be public support for Al-Assad.

Abu Ammar believes the media campaign against Meshal confirms there is an influential current in Iran and Hezbullah that does not want to restore relations with Hamas, and there is no internal consensus in Beirut and Tehran to appease the Syrian ally that opposes improving relations with Hamas.

He added that debate within Hamas on whether to maintain the group’s organisational cohesion led by Meshal, or renew its alliance with regional powers including Iran, indicates the group would choose supporting Meshal, but also improving foreign relations.

The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbullah, published a report in February stating that the agenda of Meshal’s visit to Tehran is obstructing restoration of relations with Hamas. According to the report, Meshal insists on meeting Supreme Leader Ali Khameini and President Hassan Rouhani, and the Iranians have not agreed to that yet.

The report added that the group is facing internal problems in returning to the “Axis of Resistance”, especially from its supporters in Syria and the Salafist current in Gaza. In response to the article, Hamas issued a statement the next day denying the report and described it as “fabricated and false.”

In what appears to be a strong reaction to Hamas’s refusal to cede to Iranian demands, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s (IRG) website Tabnak launched a vicious attack on Hamas and Meshal.

The website, overseen by Khameini adviser and former IRG commander General Mohsen Ridaie, reported: “Two years ago, Meshal and Hamas leaders stood on the side of international terrorists in Syria, demanding the overthrow of the Syrian regime and President Bashar Al-Assad. Today, we see them putting conditions on restoring relations between Hamas and Iran, as if Iran does not have conditions of its own.”

It continued: “When Meshal left Damascus to Doha, he did not imagine the leaders and presidents who demanded the overthrow of the Syrian regime and President Bashar Al-Assad from Egypt to Doha would change. He never imagined one day he would be forced to return to the greatest supporter and ally of the Syrian regime and Bashar Al-Assad, and seek Tehran out once again.”

The website also reported there are secret talks between Hamas leaders and Iran to sign a bilateral working paper and understanding, which includes a clause that clearly states Hamas has not changed its position on the Syrian revolution and Bashar Al-Assad, and does not promise to change its position on events in Syria.

There are also other issues under discussion, the website continued, including a condition of restoring relations between the two sides if Meshal resigns as Hamas leader. “Today, Hamas is not in a position to place conditions on restoring relations with Tehran, and it is not usual for Iran to rely on anyone after their true mettle is revealed.”

Nonetheless, Iran’s foreign ministry denied there are preconditions on Meshal’s visit, confirmed bilateral communications and dialogue on the visit, and stated that it will take place at the right time. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mordiya Afkham said: “These preconditions are merely unfounded media speculation.

“Relations between Tehran and Hamas are strong, and there are no problems between the two sides. Communications continue and Iran has good relations with all resistance factions, including Hamas.”

Meanwhile, the London-based Raialyoum newspaper quoted unnamed Hamas sources as saying that the group is looking forward to new relations with Iran, especially after the war on Gaza. It is also hoping for renewed support for the resistance and its armed wing, including missiles and materiel that could be used in any future confrontation with Israel.

However, it does not want this to come at the expense of the Qatar axis opposing the Al-Assad regime, which is Iran’s ally. Neither does it want to upset Saudi Arabia now that King Salman has come to power. It seeks good relations with the kingdom, which has adopted policies that appear to oppose Iranian positions in the region, such as in Syria and Yemen.

It added that Hamas’s political leaders, especially the group in Qatar with Meshal, do not want rapprochement with Iran to come at the expense of the group’s positions and relations with Gulf countries.

Neither should it come at the expense of recanting previous positions on the Syrian regime, so as not to appear to have made a mistake by leaving Damascus as fighting escalated between the regime and the opposition.

According to a study by the Beirut-based Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, there are three possible scenarios for relations between Hamas and Iran.

First, restoring relations to their former status, including Iranian financial and logistical support of Hamas; second, contacts end between the two sides and a complete rupture of relations; third, contacts result in restoring normal relations between the two, similar to those with other regional countries.

Al-Zaytouna predicted that relations between Hamas and Tehran are likely to range between scenarios one or three, because each side needs the other and they agree on several joint interests, despite differences on the Syrian crisis.

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