Wednesday,14 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)
Wednesday,14 November, 2018
Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Hamas in Iran

Palestinian reconciliation, sponsored by Cairo, could face obstacles if Hamas veers too close to the orbit of Tehran, writes Ahmed Eleiba


Hamas in Iran
Hamas in Iran

اقرأ باللغة العربية

A delegation from Hamas is visiting Tehran this week, including several Hamas leaders who came to Cairo over the past several weeks to finalise inter-Palestinian reconciliation brokered by Egypt. The group travelling to Iran includes Saleh Al-Aruri, deputy chief of Hamas’s politburo, who is on his first visit in this capacity, even though he previously attended the inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in August. The delegation also includes incumbent and former officials from Hamas’s politburo, including Osama Himdan, previously in charge of foreign relations, Mohamed Nasr, Ezzat Al-Rashq, Zaher Jabarin, Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas media official and Khaled Al-Qadumi, Hamas representative in Tehran.

Yehia Al-Sinwar, Hamas chief in the Gaza Strip, did not go to Iran although is a key proponent of reviving relations with Iran after a hiatus, along with Al-Aruri who reportedly held several meetings in Lebanon, where he resides, to revive ties with Damascus as well. It is difficult to know the agenda of talks in Tehran, but many sources believe recent events, such as reconciliation, topped the agenda. Sinwar’s noteworthy statements at a youth rally in Gaza about the relationship with Iran are revealing: “Iran is the top provider of weapons, funding and training for Al-Qassam Brigades, and those who are counting on severing ties with Tehran are delusional.”

“Delusional” could mean Israel, where many politicians reiterated Israel’s preconditions for Tel Aviv to accept reconciliation and its repercussions. Most notably, for Hamas to lay down its arms and curtail the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman launched a personal attack on Aruri accusing him of collaborating with Hizbullah and Iran, and using Lebanon as a platform to target Israel. Many Palestinian sources believe this week’s visit is an official response to Israel’s position.

In Cairo, experts believe Sinwar and Aruri’s ties to Tehran were already known and they are nothing new. Mohamed Gomaa, an expert on Palestinian affairs at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said what is important is to judge the performance of Hamas at this stage of the reconciliation process. Major General Mohamed Ibrahim, an expert on the issue, asserted Egypt does not have a veto on the group’s foreign relations. But what is important is that these relations or moves do not negatively impact Egypt and the reconciliation it is sponsoring, especially since Cairo plays a key regional role in the reconciliation process though it allowed other parties in the past to play a role – such as Doha, which culminated in the Doha Declaration. These are red lines that Hamas is fully aware of.

Although Palestinian and Egyptian sources indicate that Gulf countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, will fund reconciliation in the Gaza Strip and eventually remove Iran from the picture, some believe Gulf funding will be limited to civil servants and services, not direct funds that Hamas receive from Tehran. A source in Gaza with direct connections to Hamas told Al-Ahram Weekly the salaries of Al-Qassam Brigades members diminished due to cooler relations between Hamas and Tehran when Hamas’s former politburo chief, Khaled Meshaal, left Damascus for Doha.

There could be other concerns, meanwhile, caused by current conditions in the region, especially in Syria. Due to intermittent Israeli threats of military action in Syria and Lebanon to target Hizbullah’s missile capabilities, Hamas may acquire arms support through Lebanon and Syria, especially after the closure of border tunnels with Egypt, which at one point was a key route for the group to smuggle weapons coming from Libya, for example. This also means Hamas must be committed to not smuggling weapons via Egyptian soil, and therefore the group will rely on other routes for weapons and funding in the coming phase. While Hamas should try to avoid clashing with Cairo, many analysts worry that if interests between Hamas, Iran and Hizbullah converge, they would impact the current path.

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