Hamas to Iran: Palestine brings us together

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Hamas Prime Minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya (C) waves to the audience during a public rally marking 10 years since an Israeli air strike killed Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on March 23, 2014 in Gaza City. (Photo-AFP Said Khatib)

By: Qassem Qassem

Published Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Palestinian group Hamas is flirting with the notion of restoring its ties with Syria. Though the reconciliation process will take some time, Hamas seems determined to reenter the Iranian camp which would pave the way for normal relations with Damascus. In fact, Khaled Meshaal, leader of the group’s political bureau, is expected to visit Iran soon and afterward Tehran will mediate a reconciliation between Hamas and the Syrian government.

About two weeks ago, the secretary general of Islamic Jihad, Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, met with the head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal in Qatar “to finalize the preparations for Meshaal’s visit to Iran as a first step for the resumption of ties between Tehran and Hamas.”

According to sources knowledgeable about Shalah’s visit to Doha, “Hamas is still suffering from an internal crisis due to the positions its political bureau took on the developments in the region which shattered its relations with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.”

“Iran has always been the group’s main supporter and is still funding and arming the Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades. While Tehran maintains its support for resistance parties, it is also expecting Hamas to seriously review its positions in order to restore ties with the party,” the sources explained.

Shalah’s visit “was meant to urge Hamas to make prompt decisions as a way to normalize its ties with Tehran,” sources said, adding that Shalah “suggested separating Hamas’ position from the Muslim Brotherhood’s political approach while seeking to pull the Muslim Brotherhood closer to the resistance axis.”

Mashaal approved these suggestions, and he is reportedly convinced that “Arab regimes will never liberate Palestine and are forbidden from supporting the resistance axis with a single bullet.” He also complained to Shalah about the “restrictions” he has been facing in Doha, including his inability to move freely, meet with whomever he wants, and travel to countries other than Sudan and Turkey.

Osama Hamdan, the head of Hamas’ Arab relations, visited Tehran recently and held several meetings with Iranian officials who reassured him of their support for the Palestinian resistance and informed him that they would welcome Meshaal. These positive signs prompted Hamas to make new decisions, which have already been implemented. Sources said that both sides have been discussing a pathway that would allow Hamas to take the next step. Among the suggested ideas is a conference about resistance and the Palestinian cause in Tehran, attended by all Palestinian factions and their leaders - including Meshaal- who will be called to address the audience.

In his speech, Meshaal would stress on refusing to recognize Israel and on the resistance being the only way to liberate occupied territories. He would also meet with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, because after all “Meshaal’s visit to Iran without meeting Khameni would be like praying without doing ablutions,” a source said.

Iranians have agreed to meet with Meshaal because some in Tehran still consider Hamas a natural ally and their alliance would reflect the Islamic unity that Iran is constantly promoting. However, a faction in the Iranian administration is opposing swift normalization with the Palestinian group and doesn’t see a need to hold a meeting between Mehsaal and Khameni for the time being.

A three-year wait

Only a short distance separates Doha from Tehran; however, crossing to the other side of the Gulf required a deep personal review by Meshaal and his group that took a whole year. People close to Abu al-Walid say that “he considers himself responsible for the confusion in Hamas, therefore he will deploy his efforts to restore the group to the status it held before the Syrian crisis then he will quit the political bureau.” However, sources said “it is not sure that the bureau would accept Abu al-Walid’s resignation, but it’s certain that he is seeking to restore Hamas’ relations with Iran and Syria to what they were before 2011.”

Hamas officials don’t like talking about a review. Actually they deny that there are disputes regarding the general political position, though everyone is aware about the obvious divisions between Palestinians inside Gaza, mainly al-Qassam leaders and officials in the political bureau outside the Palestinian territories. Palestinians in Gaza are quite aware of the size of Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah assistance in supporting resistance efforts, therefore even amid the conflict, they maintained a connection with Tehran. This approach was adopted by Mahmoud al-Zahar and Imad al-Almi.

Beirut and Damascus after Tehran

The most critical part of Hamas returning to the resistance axis involves its relations with the Syrian leadership. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had said that Hamas “decided to abandon the resistance axis and to become part of the Muslim Brotherhood. I hope someone would be able to convince them to return to being a resistance group again, but I doubt it.”

Many Hamas leaders reject all accusations of abandoning the resistance axis. They have their own side of the story about the tensions with the Syrian leadership but now it’s not a good time to dwell on it. Following the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas is seeking to resume its relations with Syria, not just Iran and Hezbollah.

Hamas leaders have been advised to separate their position from the Muslim Brotherhood and emphasize their characteristic as a resistance movement. Ismael Haniyeh, prime minister of the Gaza government, adopted this position as he declared at a memorial ceremony for martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin “Hamas is a national liberation movement concerned with the Palestinian cause alongside its Palestinian partners and all other forces”.

Obviously, Hamas’ road to Syria passes through Iran. However, relations with Iran don’t only involve resistance but also Hamas’ positions on the Syrian crisis and all parties are relying on Meshaal’s visit to Tehran to pave the way for a reconciliation with Damascus. Meanwhile, informed sources revealed that during the Shalah-Meshaal meetings, the latter was informed about the need to “reconcile with the head of the Syrian regime.” They also said that Meshaal asked Shalah to work with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to “transfer a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Though Hamas hasn’t confirmed this information yet, it also hasn’t denied it. A prominent Hamas official stressed that, “We have never attacked the Syrian regime. We said that we stand by the will of the Syrian people without any foreign intervention,” adding that Meshaal, “met a while ago with Syrian opposition leaders in Qatar and told them that the solution for the crisis has to be political, explaining that the Syrian regime stood by Hamas when it was abandoned by the Arab world.”

Qassam: our bullets, our arms and our money are Iranian-made

Though many Hamas officials deny that the group’s position from the Syrian crisis caused internal divisions, the reality on the ground proves otherwise. Since the beginning of the crisis, the Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades refrained from attacking the Syrian regime and called for a political solution.

Al-Qassam members, in Gaza and abroad, know Syria quite well. They remember the facilities that Damascus had provided them, such as a special entrance in the airport, private convoys, apartments in Damascus, training and manufacturing centers, and facilities to transfer members to be trained in Iran. These Qassam members said “following the Egyptian siege of Gaza, al-Qassem members have not been able to visit Iran but the arms kept coming.” The brigades managed to maintain a connection with Iran through prominent leaders such as Mahmoud al- Zahar.

“We haven’t left the resistance axis for us to return to it. Iran’s aid to Hamas and Gaza is no longer restricted to the military side, in fact Iran is back to funding the Haniyeh government after a short hiatus that was due to differences in their political positions as well logistical problems at the Rafah crossing because Egyptian authorities had previously seized money belonging to Hamas.”

A while ago, Hamas official Mohammed Nasr visited Tehran and returned with financial aid for the Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades. Back then, Iranian officials assured him that financial and military assistance to the brigades won’t stop and that Iran won’t interfere in Hamas’ political choices. But he was also advised that “the group must not act as if it was a state because as a liberation movement, it is not bound to adopt a state’s strategies.”

Hamas and Hezbollah

Good relations with Iran would automatically mean good relations with Hezbollah and vice versa. In Lebanon, despite disagreements about the position on Syria between the Lebanese and the Palestinian resistance groups, ties between both parties have never been broken, mainly military wise.

Hamas still holds offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs, while Hezbollah officials stress that they cannot abandon Hamas “at the end, we are all working under a Palestinian flag and Hamas will always remain a resistance movement,”, adding “What unites us is far more significant than what divides us,” despite differences over the Syrian crisis.

Of course, Meshaal won’t move from Doha to Beirut like some have suggested “because internal Lebanese disputes can’t support a Hamas political bureau in the country,” but Beirut and its southern suburbs will no doubt be welcoming Abu al-Walid many times in the near future.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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