Hamas is a Sunni Islamist group, not Shi’ite, like Hezbollah, but Hamas has nevertheless been a key client of Shi’ite Iran’s for decades.
That relationship is not a simple one like Hezbollah’s – Hezbollah is simply a proxy of Iran, founded and still largely commanded by members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Hezbollah likes to pretend to be a patriotic Lebanese group representing the Shi’ites of Lebanon, but for all intents and purposes, it is actually an arm of the Iranian Government.
Hamas has a more complex relationship with Iran. It is actually a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, so when the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi led Egypt from 2012 to 2013, Hamas looked to Cairo for support and guidance. It was also during this period when Hamas decided to back the anti-Assad rebels at the start of the Syrian civil war. The Assad regime had been generous supporters of Hamas, but the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was on the other side, so Hamas backed their fellow Muslim brothers.
As a result, the Hamas-Iran relationship cooled significantly for several years.
Despite all this, it is simply a fact that the military threat Hamas poses to Israel is largely a direct result of Iranian aid to Hamas (together with some backing from Turkey and other sources). Some people deny this, insisting that Hamas is best understood as simply a more religious version of Palestinian nationalism, and any Iranian connection is unimportant.
If you think that, listen to what Hamas representative in Lebanon Ali Baraka told Al-Nujaba TV, a pro-Iranian Iraqi TV station on Nov. 23 (translated by MEMRI.org).
Asked how the “resistance forces” support Hamas and the Palestinians in confronting “the Zionist entity”, Baraka said:
“The resistance forces stand by Palestine, but we leave it to each of these forces to provide whatever support it can according to its circumstances. The Islamic Republic of Iran provides financial and military aid. Hezbollah provides logistical and political aid and helps with expertise.”
He then added:
“In light of the siege on the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian resistance has begun to manufacture its own missiles… the missiles that shelled Tel Aviv – some of them were Iranian and some were local. The resistance has managed to imitate the Fajr-5 missiles. It received the Fajr-5 missiles from Iran.”
He later concluded:
“Iran plays a significant role in supporting the Palestinian resistance. For example, after the Zionist aggression against the Gaza Strip in 2014, which lasted 51 days, the resistance exhausted most of its missile arsenal… The Islamic Republic of Iran was the only country that provided financial support for the resistance so that it could manufacture more missiles and obtain weapons and equipment. It compensated the resistance for its losses in the 2014 war.
“The resistance is now advancing its military industry, using the Iranian financial support. It buys raw materials in the black market with great difficulty. These materials are expensive. So the Iranian support is the basis for the steadfastness of the resistance in Gaza.”
There it is from the horse’s mouth – Iranian support is the “basis” for Hamas’ “resistance”, a.k.a., terrorism, missiles and other violence against Israel.
Palestinian polls show rising realism
As the Arab world develops a new realism with respect to the need to accept Israel as a permanent part of the Middle East, there are some signs that much of the Palestinian public may be developing a similarly sensible realism. The latest reputable polls show increasing numbers of Palestinians are prepared to accept a number of prerequisites for peace which their leaders – from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – vehemently reject.
According to two polls taken in October and publicised by David Pollack of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an increasing number of Palestinians accept that any Palestinian “right of return” under a peace deal would be to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. Two-thirds of Gazans say they would agree to this. So did 48% of West Bank residents, though 52% remained opposed.
Then there is recognition of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, something even ostensibly moderate Palestinian leaders say they will never accept. But 55% of Gazans, 36% of West Bank residents and 60% of East Jerusalem Palestinians said they would agree in exchange for Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
Finally, there is the question of whether a two-state solution should “end the conflict” or whether “resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated”, a question that has led to some pretty negative results in previous polling. Yet today, West Bankers say a deal should “end the conflict”, 50% to 37% while Gazans are almost evenly split: 47% to 49%. East Jerusalem Palestinians choose “end the conflict,” by a margin of 73% to 22%.
There are many reasons to be pessimistic about Israeli-Palestinian peace at the moment – not only are Palestinians split between Hamas and PA rule, but the PA clearly has no interest in serious peace talks under the ageing President Mahmoud Abbas. Nor does anyone know what will happen when he departs the scene.
Nonetheless, these poll results give reasons for hope over the longer term. More than this, they suggest that Israel’s current policies – maintaining the territorial status quo, encouraging West Bank economic improvement and freedom of movement, seeking constructive relations with Arab states, and pressuring Hamas to disarm while offering economic incentives if they do – may, over the long term, be helping to create the pre-conditions for peace that currently seem to be so lacking in Palestinian society.