Hamas-Iran alliance—a blessing for the Palestinian people ?
Ever since Hamas rose to victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections last January, Iran has widened its cooperation with the Islamic movement on political, military and financial fronts. Following the victory, Iran praised Palestinians for choosing "to continue the struggle and resistance against occupation," and began wielding growing influence in Palestinian affairs. For the interest of Iran, the country's leaders have sought to exploit Hamas' isolation in order to become the number one factor influencing on Hamas' policy making apparatus.
On the financial front, Tehran is looking to fill the vacuum created in the wake of shrinking financial support from both Arab states and the West. While Palestinian coffers have shrunk as a result of the refusal of many Arab banks to transfer funds now that strict U.S. anti-terrorism legislation has been passed, Palestinian leaders have been faced with the near cessation of all financial aid previously provided by the West, which amounted to nearly $1 billion per year. In such a situation, Iran has tried to portrait itself as a main financier of the Palestinians, enabling it to flex its muscles in terms of its involvement in regional affairs. Additionally, the move represents an assertion of Iran's continued commitment to the "resistance," as well as ideological solidarity with the Palestinians.
Consequently, the Iranians have given Hamas leaders preferential treatment during recent visits to Tehran, including wide media coverage of meetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, along with other senior Iranian officials. During the latest visit to Tehran by the Palestinian Minister of Interior, Saeed Siyam, Iran committed itself to providing Hamas with a generous financial assistance, following similar promises given to Hamas leaders and ministers in previous visits.
According to reports, Iran promised to transfer some $50 million, and presumably more in the future, to Hamas. Following meetings in Tehran with Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal, senior Iranian security official Ali Larijani stated that the request by the "[Palestinian] Authority to overcome the existing problems is noted by Iran and we shall definitely help them financially."
However, it still remains to be seen exactly when such funds will be transferred, and to whom. Palestinian financial sources claim that a portion of the money was smuggled into the Gaza Strip by Hamas leaders through the Rafah border crossing. Last May, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was caught attempting to smuggle nearly $900,000 in cash across the border, leading Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to launch an investigation into the matter. Despite the smuggling attempts, many of which have no doubt gone unnoticed by authorities, the funds have yet to be used to pay salaries of the general population, most of which has struggled for nine months without pay. Rather than ending up in the hands of Palestinians, donations from Iran have reportedly been transferred to those close to Hamas and to strengthen the da'wa mechanism of the Islamic Resistance Movement.
In addition to financial support by Iran for Hamas, military cooperation was also discussed during Siyam's visit to Tehran. The minister had pointed out that he requested the help of Iran in training the Palestinian police force— in essence, fortification of the new Hamas security force, currently numbering some 5,600 in the Gaza Strip. Siyam had reportedly requested that hundreds of the new Hamas unit be trained by Iranian experts, possibly in Tehran or Damascus. In addition, they would receive, as happened with Lebanon's Hizbullah, a host of advanced weapons, including anti-tank missiles, communications equipment and night-vision systems. It was also reported that Iran is liable to send officers of its Revolutionary Guard to Gaza to train the Hamas fighters and create a new generation of developers of locally produced advanced armaments. With such advanced gear and training, Hamas' military wing could likely overpower Fatah before long and develop into powerful "Hamas Army".
Furthermore, analysts maintain that Iran is interested in developing Hamas' military wing to act as an external military arm of Iran, similar to Hizbullah. Such an arm would also serve to protect the current Palestinian Islamic leadership from secular internal forces seeking to transform it from within.
By taking such steps, Iran is also attempting to demonstrate that the resistance is alive and well, while pressuring Israel by means of military attacks and prevent any concessions of Hamas to the international community.
Experts estimate that the relationship between Hamas and Iran will further isolate the Palestinian cabinet from the international community as well as increase the suffering of the Palestinian people. Thus, Hamas will also become identified with the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah "axis of evil".
Iran was among the first countries to hail Hamas, following the latter's victory in the elections. The close relations were exemplified following a subsequent visit in March by Hamas leaders to Iran, and the establishment of a Shiite organization in the Palestinian areas under the banner "The Supreme Islamic Shiite Council in Palestine." The move raised concerns within the Palestinian public that the strengthening of ties between Hamas and Iran would also result in the ascension of Shiism in Palestine. The new Palestinian-Shiite organization's founder maintained that the decision to establish the new body at the time was a result of the fact that "Iran had adopted Hamas and was working to support the Palestinian nation." He added that the goal of the Council was to establish an Islamic Caliphate, with its capital in Jerusalem. He noted the Council in Palestine maintains close ties with Lebanon's Shiites.
Many observers believe Hamas' alliance with Iran will cost it the support of its Sunni hinterland, mainly Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich states. As former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said it will be a mistake for Hamas to cement ties with Iran as Hamas' only "gain" from its alliance with Tehran will be more isolation in the Arab and the international arena.