Abbas courting Iran is like riding a tiger, terror expert says

Re-examining the political landscape in light of the Iran deal, the PA must play a double game in order to keep all options on the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With news of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas planning an official visit to Iran in November, and in light of an apparent rapprochement between Hamas and the Saudi royal family, the shifting alliances of the Middle East appear to have changed overnight.
Yet what may seem like the re-shuffling of the strategic deck is actually the reassessment of a new political landscape, says Dr. Shaul Shay, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
“What we see now is a kind of check on both sides in the Palestinian camp regarding their future policy in the region,” suggests Shay, who has also served as the deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council.
“Unfortunately, almost all of the different players in the region understand the [recent nuclear] agreement as an Iranian achievement,” argues Shay, and are therefore re-calibrating their positions regarding friends and foes.
Still, Shay refrained from suggesting that an outright alliance between the PA and Iran was in the cards. Shay sees Abbas’s upcoming trip to Iran as the pragmatic step of a shrewd politician. Abbas is willing to make all the necessary gestures to boost relations, without overtly entering into the kind of pact that Hamas and Iran had prior to their falling out over the former’s refusal to follow suit with the latter's backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s protracted civil war against a largely Sunni population.
Abbas, Shay claimed, “is a cautious leader and he’s aware of the risks in relations with Iran – it’s like riding a tiger.”
“I don’t think Iran will be influential over the Palestinian Authority, but I think it is a symbolic step of [Abbas]” who wants to ensure “that all of the options are open.”
While an Iran unrestrained by the lifting of international sanctions, and emboldened by its growing influence in the Arab World, may appear enticing, the PA chairman, Shay asserts, is unlikely to seek a benefactor in the Islamic Republic.
As opposed to other Iranian proxies, Abbas “is actually partnered to the strategic ties that he adopted from Israel, the US, and the EU,” rather than a combative orientation, says Shay, who further argued against the likelihood of a wide-spread, intifada-level uprising, instigated by any major Palestinian faction.
“I don’t think the PA or even Hamas can justify or benefit from escalation, violence or a third intifada," he said. “Even Hamas – isolated and weaker than ever before – prefers a way to maintain the cease-fire.”