Khaled Abu Toameh
In a historic reawakening, Iran is once again meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. This does not bode well for the future of “reconciliation” between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Fatah faction run by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The re-emergence of Iran, as it pursues its efforts to increase its political and military presence in the region, does not bode well for the future of stability in the Middle East.
The Iranians are urging Hamas to hold on to its weapons in spite of the recent “reconciliation” agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah under the auspices of Egypt. Iran’s goal in this move? For Hamas to maintain and enhance its preparation for war against Israel.
A high-level Hamas delegation headed by Saleh Arouri, deputy chairman of Hamas’ “political bureau,” travelled to Teheran in late October to brief Iranian leaders on the “reconciliation” deal with Fatah. During the visit, Iranian leaders praised Hamas for resisting demands (by Fatah) to disarm and relinquish security control over the Gaza Strip.
“We congratulate you on your refusal to abandon your weapons, an issue that you consider as a red line,” Ali Velayati, a senior Iranian politician and advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, told the visiting Hamas officials. “The Palestinian cause is the most important cause of the Islamic world, and after all this time you remain committed to the principle of resistance against the Zionists despite all the pressure you are facing.”
Arouri and his colleagues rushed to Teheran to seek the support of the Iranian regime in the wake of demands by Abbas that Hamas allow the PA to assume security control over the Gaza Strip. The “reconciliation” agreement stipulates nothing about the need for Hamas to disarm, and Hamas officials have stressed during the past two weeks that they have no intention of laying down their weapons or dismantling their security apparatus in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas views the demand to disarm as part of an Israeli-American “conspiracy” designed to eliminate the Palestinian “resistance” and thwart the “reconciliation” accord with Abbas’ Fatah.
Arouri was quoted during his visit to Teheran as saying that Hamas “will not backtrack on the option of defending the Palestinian people.” He specified that the “reconciliation” agreement with Fatah would not affect the weapons of the Palestinian “resistance”, including Hamas. Hamas, he added, will “confront the Israeli-American conspiracy through national unity and reconciliation and by continuing the resistance. The Palestinian resistance forces will always stick to their weapons and will not lay them down.”
Hamas also sees the visit of its top officials to Teheran as a rejection of Israel’s demand that it cut off its ties with Iran. Hamas officials say they continue to see their relations with Iran as “strategic and significant,” especially in the wake of Teheran’s financial and military aid to their movement in the Gaza Strip.
By aligning itself with Iran, Hamas is also seeking to resist any demand that it abandon its ideology and charter, which call for the destruction of Israel and oppose any peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Iranian officials apparently do not like Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and are not keen on seeing them return to the Gaza Strip. Iran considers Abbas a “traitor” because his PA conducts security coordination with Israel in the West Bank and claims that it is committed to a “peace process” with Israel. This position goes against Iran’s wish to destroy the “Zionist entity”.
Abbas, for his part, has always considered Iran a threat to his regime as well as to stability in the region. In the past, he has criticized Iran for “meddling” in the internal affairs of the Palestinians by supporting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this year, the PA strongly condemned Iran after a senior Iranian official accused Abbas of waging war in the Gaza Strip on behalf of Israel. The official’s statement came in response to a series of punitive measures imposed by Abbas on the Gaza Strip.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, accused Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians and some Arab countries. He said that Iran’s actions “encouraged divisions” among the Palestinians. “Iran must stop feeding civil wars in the Arab world,” he said. “Iran must stop using rhetoric that only serves Israel and the enemies of the Arabs.”
Abbas and the PA are now convinced that Iran is working towards foiling the “reconciliation” agreement with Hamas. They believe that Iran invited the Hamas leaders to Teheran to pressure them not to lay down its weapons.
Abbas and the Egyptians were probably naïve to think that Hamas would disarm and allow Abbas loyalists to deploy in the Gaza Strip after the signing of the “reconciliation” agreement. It is possible that some of the Hamas leaders had lied to Abbas and the Egyptians by hinting that Hamas would give up security control of the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptians, who played a major role in brokering the Hamas-Fatah deal, are also believed to be worried about Iran’s renewed meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. Both the Palestinian Authority and Egypt see the visit of the Hamas delegation to Iran as a serious setback to the “reconciliation” agreement and as a sign that Hamas is not sincere about implementing the accord.
Some PA and Hamas officials have recently claimed that Israel was not happy with their “reconciliation” agreement and was doing its utmost to foil it. The truth, however, is that it is Iran and Hamas that are working to thwart the agreement by insisting on maintaining the status quo in the Gaza Strip. Iran’s message to Hamas: If you want us to continue providing you with financial and military aid, you must continue to hold on to your weapons and reject demands to disarm.
What is in it for Iran? Iran wants Hamas to retain its security control over the Gaza Strip so that the Iranians can hold onto another power base in the Middle East.
Iran wants Hamas to continue playing the role of a proxy, precisely as Hezbollah functions in Lebanon.
The last thing Iran wants is for the PA security forces to return to the Gaza Strip.
Iran’s continued support for Hamas stems not out of love for either Hamas or the Palestinians, but from its own interest in consolidating its presence in the Middle East.
Many Palestinians see the “successful” visit of the Hamas officials to Teheran as a major setback for efforts to end the 10-year-long Hamas-Fatah dispute. Similarly, the Egyptians are now wary of the sudden rapprochement between Iran and Hamas and are beginning to ask themselves whether they have been duped by Hamas.
As for Israel, the US and other Western parties, the lesson to be drawn from the renewal of ties between Hamas and Iran is that Hamas has not changed one iota.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning Jerusalem-based journalist specialising in Palestinian affairs. Reprinted from the Gatestone Institute (www.gatestoneinstitute.org) © Khaled Abu Toameh, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.