The Tehran-Hamas Arms Highway
By: Qassem Qassem
Published Sunday, December 9, 2012
On its 25th anniversary, Hamas has many things to celebrate during its main festivities in Gaza. The most important is its recent military triumph, but also its finally gaining recognition for its authority over Gaza after six years of isolation.
Yet in the past few days, the Islamic movement has been entangled in regional calculations, with some saying it had jumped from one political axis to another. Recent developments, however, indicate that Hamas remains part of the resistance front and its alliances. It might have altered some of its positions and pulled out of Syria, but its relationship with Iran remains intact.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gathered the commanders of the resistance to reiterate the old directive: send large quantities of specialized arms to Hamas, while “forbidding political talk” between the two sides.
Nasrallah made his announcement following the visit of Hamas official Imad al-Alami to Tehran to ease the tensions between his movement and Iran. The result of this visit was a request by Iran to “open highways for money and weapons” to the Gaza Strip. But the issue remained within closed circles.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah sent a directive to all its members, which forbade any criticism of Hamas in its media, including social networks.
Despite breaking its relations with the Syrian regime, this did not affect its relationship with Iran, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s main ally. Iran remains in contact with the Hamas politburo to discuss their financial and military needs.
“The relationship with Iran is strategic and indispensable,” said one Hamas official. Another said that “despite what is happening on the media level, Iran’s financial and military support to the Strip remains the same.”
Hamas’ position is based on its positive assessment of Iran’s role, which remained at its side financially and logistically when all the world had renounced the movement.
When Ismail Haniyeh formed his government, it was snubbed by Arab and western countries alike due to pressure from the US. Iran broke the rule and stood side by side with Haniyeh and provided his government with the money they needed to govern around two million people.
Haniyeh paid back the favor by traveling to Tehran on his first official trip as a prime minister. He did not go to any Arab country simply because they all refused to welcome him.
Following the official visit, Haniyeh returned to the Strip with the moral and material support of Iran. Some might remember the famous photograph of Haniyeh sitting at the Rafah border crossing next to a big bag. It was said that the bag – of which there were many – contained Iranian money, but they were confiscated by Israeli authorities.
At the time, Hamas did not want to jump completely into Iran’s lap, but after being spurned by the Arabs, it was their only option.
“What made the relationship so special was that Iran gave us the support and announced this to the public. Others provide support, but do not dare to say it,” he said.
Another official said, “The Arabs did not embrace us, so we went to Iran and it gave us all we needed without anything in return.”
Thus, the visit to Iran did not come out of a vacuum. The relationship between Hamas and Iran was not a spur-of-the-moment development. Hezbollah played a major role in building this relationship since the early 1990s, when Israel deported several Palestinian leaders, mainly from the Hamas cadre and leadership, to Marj al-Zohour in South Lebanon.
This was a chance for Hezbollah to meet with those leaders and the both sides realized that they could establish a long-term relationship around the resistance, despite the ideological differences between them. This was followed by clandestine visits by Hamas officials to Iran to better understand the Iranian mentality and learn from the experience of its revolutionary guard.
A Hamas official maintained that “the relationship with Iran is hierarchical. There is a ceiling that neither side can surpass, no matter how much they disagree in politics.”
He mentioned that on several occasions “the disagreement on the Syrian dossier reached advanced levels, but the highest authority in Iran asked both sides to show restraint, and they did.”
Of course, the visits were not limited to Hamas members. Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard regularly visited Gaza to learn about the military nature of the Strip and underground ammunition storage capabilities used by the Palestinians.
Following the visits of the Revolutionary Guard and close inspection of Qassam Brigades’ needs, another phase of the relationship began. It centered on how to smuggle weapons to to the besieged Gaza Strip.
The revolutionary guards transported the weapons to Syria, which also opened its factories to Hamas. The next stop was Sudan, then to the Sinai desert, where Hezbollah took care of getting the weapons into the Strip.
The only way to send in the Fajr 5 rockets was through the tunnels, so they were taken apart to be reassembled on the other side. Since the Iranians are practical, they said that this increased the threat of exposure, so they built local factories to build the rockets inside Gaza instead of smuggling them.
The M-75 rockets launched at Tel Aviv last month – and unveiled to the public for the first time in the recent operation Stones of Sijjil (baked clay) – were the local version of the Fajr 5.
“When we began developing mid-range and long-range missiles, we undoubtedly benefited from Fajr 5 technology. We went to our friends who were experienced in producing such rockets,” maintained a high ranking Hamas official.
“Fajr 5 rockets were sent to us from Iran, and we made use of their technology and developed it based on our previous experience and the geography of the Strip,” he explained.
“The Iranians were amazed because they did not expect the residents of a besieged Strip to be able to develop them with such efficacy,” another Hamas official said.
The relationship between Iran and Hamas is not limited to military cooperation. There is also coordination in political positions, despite the differences on Syria.
The difference in position on that issue does not negate Hamas’ importance towards the Iranians, and the opposite is also true. They are both under one ceiling, the resistance, which is forbidden to be approached or touched.
Thus, the last war on the Gaza Strip laid bare the disagreement brewing inside Hamas. It is a conflict between two wings in the movement. One is allied with Iran and the other considers itself part of the international Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Some Hamas leaders, such as Mahmoud al-Zahhar, are making visits to Iran without prior consultation with the movement’s politburo. High ranking officials in the movement, however, said that Zahhar must consult with the politburo in all his decisions.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.