What is behind Hamas-Iran rapprochement?
The thawing of relations between Hamas and Iran is of mutual interest.
Can Hamas turn down Iranian calls to renew their ties to their previous level? The answer to this question is one big no. The reason for this is due to major changes and upheavals that are taking place in the region which has created an increased pressure on Hamas inside and outside Gaza. While Hamas is facing a lot of pressure inside Gaza. This, however, is a fraction of a bigger plan against its very existence concocted and planned by international and regional actors and spearheaded by Sisi-led Egypt.
Realising the changing realities in the region, officials from both sides who have worked together in the past, especially in coordinating Hamas ties with Hezbollah, exchanged letters and held meetings in Tehran in an effort to bring back the ties to its previous vigour.
It is obvious, however, that while making strides toward Hamas, Iran has clear understanding of its objectives, the real question is, does Hamas understand its own objectives and more importantly, does it realise the changes that took place within Iranian foreign policy?
From an Iranian foreign policy perspective, the regional upheavals and the bloody revolt in Syria have created a conflict and a visible rift between its public pronouncements of supporting the oppressed and the resistance against Israel and its outright military and financial support for the Syrian regime against its own people.
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Such conflicting and contradicting policies caused Iran to lose its moral standing in the region and saw much of its public support in the Arab world evaporated. This, in turn, has damaged the Iranian policy of maintaining leverage over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
While in the past Iran has successfully taken advantage of Arab states’ lack of interest in helping the Palestinians against Israel to build its own standing in the region, its policy in Syria caused it to lose decades of building on that standing in the Arab world. Thus, rapprochement with Hamas provides Iran with an opportunity to rebuild its standing in the region and gives it the leverage it once had.
Despite the fact that Hamas did not change its position regarding the Syrian regime, Iran did not make that an issue. It has also prevented any public criticism of Hamas.
Iranian regional policy can be described as “complex”. On one hand, it provides the Palestinian resistance movements that seek the liberation of Palestine through military means, with financial and military support.
On the other hand, several official Iranian statements spoke of a peaceful settlement to the conflict, or conducting a poll among the Palestinians about a peaceful settlement. Most recently, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran will agree with whatever the Palestinian accept.
In the meantime, the thawing of relations between Iran and Hamas should be viewed in concert with the US-Iranian talks and negotiations over its nuclear programme and other regional issues.
This should be the case even if the US-Iranian dialogue is viewed in Iran as short term or tactical because, in the view of the Iranian leadership, a strategic rapprochement with the US will have serious political and social consequences on its own domestic and foreign policies and would expose it to criticism due to perceived contradiction between its revolutionary rhetoric and its necessary pragmatism.
Thus, the principle of “constructive involvement” in foreign and regional affairs did not in essence contradict the principle of “self reliance and hope” in managing the Iranian domestic political and economic policies that would in the end enhance Iran’s international standing.
Iran has managed to leverage its position as a mediator or a party to regional issues and conflicts to support these two principles. Strong ties with Hamas, as an entry point to the Palestinian cause, from an Iranian perspective, therefore, represent a key regional objective that will complement its foreign and domestic policies.
A Hamas visit to Tehran
Moreover, the same Iranian leaders who have in the past met and worked with Hamas leaders under the banner of “comrades in arms”, or as “supporting the oppressed and confronting the West”, are the same ones who lead the imperial Iranian rhetoric and speak of Iranian supremacy.
Hossein Hamadani, a former commander in the Iranian revolutionary guards was quoted in the official Iranian news agency Fars, as saying that the civil war in Syria is a proxy war on behalf of Iran. Hamadani’s statement was later removed from the agency’s website.
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Similarly, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, another former commander of the revolutionary guards and now an adviser to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Iran’s power and influence has now reached the Mediterranean, a vague reference to ancient Persian empires.
It is clear that Hamas is not dealing with the revolutionary Iran of the past, rather an ambitious project that mixes Iranian nationalism with its religious particularism and military strength, adding to the formula a soft form capitalism.
Regarding Hamas leaders’ recent visit to Tehran, there are several points that should be considered.
First, the visit was made after Hamas expressed the desire to do so and was preceded by several meetings between Hamas and Iranian officials in Beirut, Lebanon.
Second, Hamas needs the relations with Iran in order to offset the pressure its facing in the region.
Third, Iran also needs Hamas for several important reasons. Iran wants to stress the fact that it is active and relevant in the Palestinian issue, especially having strong ties with an important Palestinian faction such as Hamas. Iran also needs to repair its sectarian image – having strong ties with a Sunni organisation such as Hamas is important in this regard. Iran also wants to send a signal to the US and other regional actors that, it, too, has influence on the Palestinian issue especially when it comes to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
For its part, Hamas views its renewed contacts with Iran as important step towards loosening the grip of the Israeli and regional blockade against it.
Fatima Ahmad Alsmadi is a specialist in Iranian affairs and author of several books. She is a researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies.