A noteworthy development from last week was the visit by a high-level delegation from the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to Iranian capital Tehran. The delegation led by Saleh El-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, held meetings with Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Khamanei’s Chief Adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, and Iranian Parliament Foreign Affairs Strategic Council Chair Kamal Kharrazi. Arouri, who underlined that the resistance groups in Palestine are stronger now than they were in the past, presented to Khamanei a special letter from Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Arouri also said, “We, as representatives of Resistance Front and the Hamas Movement, voice our solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran and emphasize that any hostile act against Iran is an act against Palestine and the Resistance, and we see ourselves in the frontline of supporting Iran.”
Hamas, which moved its headquarters in Damascus to Qatari capital Doha following the public uprising that broke out in Syria in 2011, appearing again in Tehran, is, of course, closely associated with the recent developments in the Middle East. The Iran-Russia-Bashar Assad front gaining control in Syria is the primary and most important reason for the return. When the Baath regime started to open fire against its own people and suppressed the uprising through bloodshed upon the breakout of the revolt, the Hamas administration led by Khaled Mashal had left Damascus. As can be ascertained from Mashal’s statements back then, attacking unarmed demonstrators in such a manner was not a circumstance that could be approved by Hamas.
The group, which could easily compensate for the aid Iran ceased after moving its headquarters to Doha, gradually lost the support in the region in the following period, but is now resorting to Tehran. Of course, it should be remembered that the rapprochement between Hamas and Tehran has coincided with a time when Qatar is closing ranks with Iran due to the hostility of its neighbors in the Gulf. Doha-based Al Jazeera television channel has long been choosing to ignore the bombings in Syria. The channel’s broadcast policy is now focused on the “Saudi oppression in Yemen.” Despite all Hamas’s desire and enthusiasm, it is not yet certain weather the Damascus regime will invite its former guest to the country again. As a matter of fact, according to news reports, the Assad government is inclined to get Hamas to make some intense concessions.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt’s extreme and open rapprochement with Israel is the second factor that is driving Hamas to hobnob with Iran. It seems Iran’s “uncompromising stance” provides some sort of relief when it comes to comforting the Palestinian public that is embroiled in a political crisis due to the “Deal of the Century” and other impositions. Apart discussions on whether Iran has any concrete intention to save Palestine and Jerusalem, even the rhetoric in such a vicious atmosphere is considered to be quite refreshing.
The need for Iran’s economic support due to the restriction on Qatar’s aid by Israel and Egypt, as well as the constant tensions with the Mahmoud Abbas administration, can be noted as the third reason. If we were to consider the reports by certain sources that state Iran’s financial aid to Hamas in the form of millions of dollars is true, it appears Tehran is being quite generous to support Gaza. In a statement he made in May 2018, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, had said they gained momentum in the fight against Israel thanks to Iran’s support, and that they increased their armament strength with this support.
All these are quite understandable justifications. Taking into consideration the latest developments in our region, there really was no other option for Hamas but to take shelter in Iran again anyway. However, approaching the case in terms of the movement’s historical roots, it is also certain that we are face-to-face with an interesting picture:
As is known, Hamas is a movement that breeds on the ideology and position of the Muslim Brotherhood Organization (shortly, Ikhwan). Though it is stated in the “foundation document” published in 2017, the movement has no organic ties to Ikhwan, it is obvious that Hamas is following in the footsteps of its Egyptian brother in every way – from its organizational structure to its goals.
It could be said that the recent history of Syria’s Baath regime, which hosted Hamas between 1999 and 2011, consists of the fight against Ikhwan. Ikhwan forces that have been clashing with the regime since the 1960s have always taken an anti-Baath position both politically and through the operations of certain armed groups that emerged from among the organization. Hafez el-Assad, who had held control in Syria since 1970, launched numerous operations against Ikhwan members, with the gravest being the Hama Massacre in 1982 – in which at least 30,000 people were killed. Ikhwan members, who were able to escape the state’s savage raid with their lives, are still living in exile in various countries.
Despite this position against Ikhwan, Hamas had to settle in Damascus in 1999 after it was made to leave Jordan’s capital Amman. When the Syrian regime took Hamas under its protection, it had also led the organization to sever all its practical ties with Ikhwan. At the current point, as Hamas is turning towards Tehran and Damascus once again, the organization’s choice to take this path leading to the rise of difference of opinion and division within seems inevitable. In this period, which Palestinian politics is at a complete bottleneck, the conclusion of Hamas’s natural lifespan and the rise of new formations may gain speed.
Regardless of what happens, the matter of which party profits most from Hamas-Iran relations, and as a result, how this exchange evolves, offers a very fertile research platform for historians of the future.