Saleh al-Arouri (L), Hamas deputy chief, meets with Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's National Security Council, in Tehran, Iran October 21, 2017. .
(photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Any hopes that Hamas would become more moderate as a result of its reconciliation process with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement have been put to rest by the current visit of its leaders to Tehran and their affirmation there of armed resistance as their unshakable strategic choice.
Indeed, the visit – the first stop for Hamas leaders after inking an Egyptian-brokered agreement ten days ago to advance inter-Palestinian rapprochement – amounts to Hamas setting a clear limit on the scope of the reconciliation: handing over daily governance of the Gaza Strip to the PA, yes; changing foreign policy or long term strategy, no.
“The aim is to show the world they adhere to the choice of resistance and are not putting all of their eggs in the Egyptian basket or that of Abbas,” says Hani Masri, director of the Masarat thinktank in Ramallah.
In a television interview from Tehran Saturday night, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri drew a clear distinction between its reconciliation with Fatah and its policy regarding Israel. “Support of the resistance is one thing and Palestinian reconciliation is another thing, related to the civil side in the Palestinian sphere.” In other words, the reconciliation only covers internal matters.
The security cabinet said last week
that before it would negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, the Islamist group must sever ties with Iran, disarm and recognize Israel. By visiting Tehran, the biggest supporter of Hamas’s armed wing the Izzadin Kassam brigades, Hamas’s leaders are flouting all three conditions and brazenly defying both Israel and Abbas, who has also stated that the brigades must be disarmed.
At the same time, Hamas is calculating that its alliance with Iran will not cause a rupture with Cairo, despite Egypt’s close ties with Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia.
Hamas thinks it can have it both ways. “We are interested in strengthening our relations with any country and party that offers help and support to our people in facing the Israeli occupation in all its forms – whether by supporting reconciliation in internal Palestinian affairs or supporting us in resisting the occupation,” Hamas deputy political chief Salah Arouri said in Tehran, according to the London-based Ray al-Yawm website.
He added, ”We are here in Iran to affirm our adherence to the choice of resistance in the face of the occupation and the Zionist project, and our adherence to all of our relations that support the choice of resistance in the face of the occupation – until its removal.”
Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said it is difficult to predict whether Hamas will actually be able to keep a balance between Cairo and Tehran. He expects Hamas to meet Egyptian concerns about safeguarding the Strip’s borders with Sinai, a vital interest for Egypt as it combats an insurgency in the peninsula.
For Hamas, Iranian support is vital to the viability of the Kassam brigades. And unlike other countries that press them to abandon armed struggle, Iran embraces it. The Hamas visit to Tehran shows that relations have more than fully recovered from the chill that set in during 2012, when they refused to go along with Iranian backing of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
Now that the war appears to have been decided in Assad’s favor, Hamas may be looking for Iran to engineer a reconciliation with its former ally in Damascus.
For Iran, Hamas enables it to show support for the Palestinian cause and to confront Israel, both key principles of the Iranian regime. In the face of the tough posture it faces from US President Donald Trump, Tehran is anxious to demonstrate its influence on the most resonant issue in the region. “At a time of growing American and Israeli tensions with Iran, Tehran is again in need of the Palestinian card,” Masri says.
While Hamas’s ties with Cairo may well survive the embrace of Tehran, its impact on Palestinian reconciliation may prove far more destructive.
With Abbas’s strategy based on the hope of US-sponsored negotiations towards a two-state solution with Israel, and Hamas focused on armed struggle in alliance with Iran, chances for a genuine political healing between Fatah and Hamas seem as remote as ever.