Friday, November 23, 2012

Mordechai Kedar: Hamas - Between the Israeli Hammer and the Iranian Anvil

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

The real, profound reason for the current violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip stems from the nature of the relationship between Hamas and Iran, which is directly involved in the events that occur in Gaza. 

Ever since the regime of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Iraq in April 2003, Iran has served as the main support for Hamas, because the Hamas movement continued the jihad against Israel, in contrast to the PLO, which signed the Oslo Accords and surrendered – according to the Iranian view – the struggle to liberate Palestine.   For years, Iran has been sending weapons, ammunition, money and equipment, to the fighters of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, by the northern route via Syria, Lebanon and the sea, and by the southern route via Sudan, Egypt and Sinai. Syria gave the leaders of Hamas – mainly Khaled Meshaal – safe haven in Damascus from where the jihad against Israel could be conducted, and there was full coordination between the Syrian regime and Hamas. Hizb’Allah was enlisted to support Hamas in any way that was requested. Thus Hamas became an inseparable part of the coalition that Iran built in the Arab world, and the fact that Hamas people are Sunni and Iran and Hizb’Allah are Shi’ite did not disturb Hamas.

In January 2006 Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, but friction and disagreements with the PLO prevented the transfer of the reins of power to Hamas. A series of clashes between the organizations in the Gaza Strip gave rise in February 2007 to the “Mecca Agreement”, which was implemented, but did not prevent Hamas from taking over the Gaza Strip in June 2007 with blood and fire, when they eliminated members of security forces of the Palestinian Authority by shooting them in their heads and knees. Some of them were thrown down to the street from high-rise buildings that they had fled to in an attempt to escape. Since then Hamas has been in total control of Gaza, but has allowed other organizations to act, train arm themselves and attack Israel from time to time. That is why organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees, the Army of the Nation, the Army of Islam, the Salah-a-Din Brigades and others are active in the Gaza Strip. As long as their action against Israel was within acceptable limits, the Hamas government closed its eyes because it did not want to be perceived as the Israeli “Border Police”.

Meanwhile Hamas has established in Gaza a system a totally functional system of governmental administration: police, military, military industry with the ability to create missiles, a legal system, a for legislative mechanism with an Islamic character, and offices of health, education and infrastructure. The leaders of Hamas travel the world as heads of state and are received as desired guests in Moscow and in most Arab capitals. In Iran also, the heads of Hamas have visited more than a few times. The connection with Iran continues and Iran has continued to arm Hamas with missiles that everyone knew were intended to harm the citizens of Israel.

The change in relations between Hamas and Iran started in March 2011, when the demonstrations against the regime in Syria began. The regime is struggling with very violent demonstrations; its forces are shooting into groups of demonstrators, causing fatalities among the unarmed citizenry. Most of the citizens killed were Sunni Muslims, while the ‘Alawite regime is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. The sectarian character of the Syrian conflict is emphasized by the fact that Shi’ites – Iran and Hizb’Allah - support the regime. Since the riots in Syria began – which developed within a few months into open violence on both sides – the Syrian regime has demanded from the leaders  of Hamas, principally those in Syria, to express support for the regime and even to support it with fighters who would act against the demonstrators, just as Hizb’Allah sent snipers to Syria for the same reason.

The leaders of Sunni Hamas can not express support for the heretical ‘Alawite regime that is slaughtering Sunni citizens with the help of Shi’ites, whether because it is a betrayal of their brothers or because of the fear that the Sunni citizens would take revenge on them by harming the Palestinian refugees in Syria; but on the other hand they also could not express support for the Sunni population because then the regime would harm them and their refugee brothers . For several months Khaled Meshaal sat “on the fence” in the hope that the demonstrations would stop and save him from having to express support for one of the sides, but this did not happen –the opposite occurred: the hostile acts between the warring sides in Syria only increased, and as they increased so did the pressure on Meshaal from the both sides. The Iranians and the Syrian regime expected Meshaal to pay Asad back for the many long years that Syria supported Hamas with weapons, ammunition and money, but he did not give  them this support.

This is why he had to leave Damascus and to evacuate the offices of Hamas, and since then he has been wandering mainly in Qatar and Egypt which meanwhile has become the capital of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent movement. Iran has decreased its support of Hamas, because Hamas has put away the flag of jihad and because it has busied itself in recent years with state building in Gaza. Iran has turned its support to rogue organizations, mainly Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, who have made life difficult for Hamas as Hamas used to do to the PLO.

Meanwhile the crisis in Syria has evolved into a regional conflict in which the Shiite coalition – Iran, Iraq and Hizb’Allah – supports the regime of Asad, and a Sunni coalition – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt – support the Sunni citizens. Qatar is leading this coalition, mainly in order to fend off the Iranians, who are threatening the Gulf Emirates. The Emir of Qatar, the most powerful man in the Arab world, who leads the Sunni Arab world against the Shi’ite coalition under the leadership of Iran, went for a state visit in the Gaza Strip last month, on the 23rd of October. This visit marked the acceptance of the state of Gaza, under the government of Hamas, as a full member of the Sunni coalition, and in return, the emir of Qatar promised a grant of 450 million dollars to develop the infrastructure in Gaza.

The visit and the money from Qatar were an additional nail in the coffin for Iran-Hamas relations, because the money represents a long-term commitment on the part of the Hamas government to be part of the Sunni, anti-Iranian coalition, headed by the emir of Qatar. Hamas’ betrayal of Iran raised the ire of the Iranians, who instructed their new friends in Gaza, the people of the Palestinian Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad, to escalate the situation with Israel in order to harm the master of Gaza, Hamas. On the 10th of November they shot an anti-tank missile at a jeep that was patrolling a road within Israeli territory, and three soldiers were injured. This Satanic Iranian plan succeeded beyond expectations: after a few days of bad weather (it is difficult for unmanned drones to function in windy, rainy weather) Israel began a large-scale air operation against the Hamas infrastructure, exactly as Iran had planned.

The Iranian spokesmen expressed – of course – objection to the “barbaric” steps that Israel had taken, and even expressed support for Hamas, but it is clear that this support is just lip service, because in the Iranian view Israel is doing their dirty work for them, avenging the betrayal of Hamas after Iran had supported it for years and after Hamas had even crossed lines and joined forces with Qatar.

The Sunni coalition understood exactly what was happening and stepped in immediately to support its brothers in Gaza: last Saturday, the 17th of November, the leaders of this coalition – the emir of Qatar, Erdo─čan and President Mursi - came to Cairo in order to consult with each other on how to rescue Hamas from the Israeli hammer that was pounding it from above, and from the Iranian anvil – the organizations that oppose Hamas in Gaza. Everyone knows that Hamas has neither the desire nor the capability to act decisively against the organizations that oppose it, because taking decisive action against them will only provide them with propaganda ammunition and they will be able to claim that Hamas has become the “Israeli Border Police”, the twin of the PLO’s Palestinian Authority, which has abandoned jihad in exchange for jobs and salaries.

I don’t know if Israel immediately understood what Iran has done. This caused Israel to be faced with two opposing possibilities: one is that Hamas may actually serve Israeli interests by breaking off part of the Palestinian Authority and establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza, and therefore it would be better to focus the attack on the rogue organizations instead of taking action against Hamas. The other approach is: since Hamas took control of Gaza, it must be seen as responsible for everything that originates from there, so if someone fires a missile at an Israeli jeep, then Hamas is responsible for it even if Hamas had no part in it. According to this approach, Gaza is already functioning as a state, and therefore it must be held accountable for any attack on Israel that originates from Gaza, because if they really wanted to, they could shut down all of the rogue organizations and confiscate their weapons.

And now, since Israel has decided on a wide-scale operation against Hamas and the other organizations, it must assure in any agreement reached that Iran will no longer be able to arm its friends in Gaza, and Egypt will finally begin to take serious action against the smuggling of weapons and missiles from its territory to the Strip, and if Mursi decides to open the Rafah Crossing, he must check every truck carefully to be sure that missiles are not hidden underneath the food.

It could be that given the present alignment of powers, in which some neighboring countries fear Iran no less than we do, we can act together with these neighboring countries instead of against them, because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The state of Hamas in Gaza, if it lives beside us peacefully, can be part of the anti-Iranian alignment. Israel should have a dialogue with the Egyptian government, behind the scenes, of course, about the way all of the inhabitants of the area, including the Hamas movement, can together cope with the great threat – Iran and its friends – instead of falling into the trap that Iran is preparing for its opponents and those who have abandoned and betrayed it. 


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar
( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with the permission of the author.

Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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