The relations between Iran and Hamas developed, especially after the latter had won the legislative elections and formed the government in 2006. Iran greatly supported Hamas facing the Israeli siege and offensive on the Gaza Strip (GS), while Hamas became a part of the “Refusal Front” comprising Iran, Syria and Hizbullah.
However, the popular uprising and revolution in Syria since spring 2011 has led to a rift between Hamas and Iran based on their respective stance towards the uprising. Hamas on one hand aligned itself with popular demands seeking freedom and democracy while Iran declared its full support for the ruling regime. Ultimately, Iran’s support for Hamas deteriorated and the relationship between the two sides fell to a nadir.
The changes and uprisings in the Arab region, Iran’s efforts to play a regional role, and its keenness on resolving its economic problems in addition to the rapprochement with the West regarding its nuclear program and its support of the Palestinian issue are factors that affect the Iranian decision.
Scenarios for future relations between Iran and Hamas range from restoring the old relations, a limited and relative development, or further deterioration. Yet, it remains important for both sides to cooperate in several issues; serving the Palestinian issue, facing disrupting foreign intervention and neo-colonialism, fighting sectarian and ethnic sedition, and supporting the rights of the people of the region to achieve their aspirations and establish their political regimes freely.
The relations between the Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas and the Islamic Republic of Iran date back to 1990, and in 1991 Hamas delegation participated in the first Intifadah conference held in Tehran. The development of the relation with the Lebanese Hizbullah, especially after a large number of Hamas leaders were expelled by Israel to Marj al-Zuhur in late 1992, has helped strengthen that relation. The relation was primarily based on resistance as a common ground, and the need to establish a strategic relation to consolidate this track and strengthen it.
Hamas’s pursuit of relations with Iran was based on its willingness to cooperate with all sides and countries in the region to serve the Palestinian issue. This cooperation would be based on balance rather than alignment with any regional side or any internal constituent of regional countries, in addition to non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.
Aside from sectarian differences, the Islamic background of both sides and their belief that Palestine should be liberated from the River to the Sea, besides non-recognition of Israel, have helped converge views between Iran and Hamas, thus leading to cooperation regarding armed resistance and supporting the Palestinian people. Iran has been aware of Hamas’s weight and its impact on the popular, political and resistance levels, which would ultimately support Iran’s Islamic credibility and its regional weight and role.
The relation witnessed a major leap following Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections in the West Bank (WB) and GS in 2006, and its formation of the Palestinian government. Iran strongly supported Haniyyah’s government facing the Israeli imposed siege and its support reached a climax during the Israeli offensive on GS in Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009. Although conformity was not always a characteristic of the relation between Iran and Hamas, the two sides could manage their differences with optimal success and their relation could be described as one of strategic convergence. However, this relation deteriorated because of the repercussions of the Arab Uprisings, and because of the disagreement regarding the Syrian crisis, especially after Hamas leadership left Damascus in early 2012.
Factors Affecting the Hamas-Iran Relations:
A combination of factors has recently influenced the relationship between Hamas and Iran, and the most important of these factors are:
• Uprisings and changes in the Arab world: These have formed a strategic turning point which highly affected the map of regional relations, including those between Iran and Hamas. The increased role of the Islamists in the uprisings and their taking over or participation in the ruling regime in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Morocco provided Hamas with a range of alternatives, especially in Egypt. In addition, the cautious actions of Islamists towards Iran, coupled with a decision to not rush into an overt hostility with Israel and the US—based on an assessment of their conditions—have raised Iranian fears.
• The Syrian crisis: The popular uprising in Syria has deepened the chasm between Hamas and Iran. Hamas’s departure from Syria in early 2012 due to the repercussions of the uprising that turned into a revolution, the movement’s alignment with the popular will, and its rejection to support the Syrian regime have further widened the gap between the two sides. In addition, not only did the Syrian crisis influence Hamas-Iran relations but it also shook the foundations of the whole “Refusal Front.”
• The nuclear issue: Iran has tried to resolve its economic problem through the resolution of its nuclear program problem. Yet, achieving comprehensive solutions might mean rapprochement between Iran on one side and Washington and the West on the other side. Such rapprochement might ultimately cause Iran to abandon Hamas as one among other entitlements Iran has to satisfy so that Washington would acknowledge its regional role in the context of the latest nuclear deal, in case the deal succeeded on the regional level.
The Map of Relations between Hamas and Iran:
The relation between Hamas and Iran is governed by intersecting factors that support the continuity of the relation and other factors that threaten the relation and weaken it:
1) Most Important Fields for Cooperation and Agreement
• The Islamic ideological background of the two sides (regardless of the sectarian differences) provides great area for common points.
• The common stance towards the Zionist project and Israel as summarized in seeking the liberation of Palestine, its restoration to its people, and the non-recognition of Israel.
• According to Iran, Hamas is a Sunni leverage for Tehran in regional political geography, where Palestine has a central status on the Islamic and Arab levels, which would thus support Iran’s regional status in the region.
• Iran’s relation with Hamas mitigates the sectarian nature of Iran’s regional role according to a wide spectrum of observers and people in the region.
• In return, Tehran is an influential regional base supportive of Hamas, especially on the logistic level.
• In addition, the intersection of relations among Iran, Damascus, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine and Hizbullah has given momentum to the resistance program, and formed a regional cover to it.
2) Most Important Areas of Difference and Friction Between the Two Sides
• Sectarian differences and the failure to overcome them, amid sectarian atmosphere, and the inability to forge a coalition.
• The sensitivity of the region towards the Iranian regional role, at a time when Hamas’s strategic support (especially at the popular level) is based in this same space.
• Hamas’s independence and its complete rejection of dependence on any regional power, while some decision makers in Iran have the tendency towards hegemony.
• Hamas’s sensitivity towards getting engaged in regional coalitions, for this is contradictory to its strategic vision, while Iran wants to develop relations into a homogeneous coalition with a highly coordinated policy.
Where Each Side Stands in the Current Regional Scene:
Two of the biggest changes initiated by the Arab Uprisings and whose reverberations are still witnessed are: First, the awakening of popular conscious and the public’s confidence in its ability to change and have influence, in addition to the rise of political Islam. Second, and regionally speaking, the “Refusal Front” and the “Moderation Axis” are suffering cracks where a new regional map could be redrawn.
Most regional powers, whether those of the “Refusal Front” or the “Moderation Axis,” have raised fears over these factors. Countries from both axes worked to foil the Arab Uprisings, each in their own way, supported by international powers serving the same end.
Consequently, the counter-revolution came out to overthrow political Islam, and to terrorize and tame popular factor, given that these are the most influential outputs of the Arab Uprisings. However, the counter-revolution exacerbated the chaos that followed the outbreak of the revolutions, and deepened it, thus leading to massive regional shakiness pervaded by violent conflict between regional powers to re-demarcate the Arab region, in light of uncertainty regarding its future.
Following is a perspective of Iran and Hamas in the troubled regional landscape:
• Iran fears losing its strategic ally in Damascus and the consequent dangerous deterioration of its geostrategic position. Thus, it does its best to support the Syrian regime despite the losses at the popular (at least in the Sunni medium) and material levels.
• Hizbullah, Iran’s major ally in Lebanon, is suffering the repercussions of its military and logistic intervention to back the Syrian regime. It is also suffering the consequent depletion of its combat power, popular and material losses, and crises in the Lebanese arena.
• Tehran agreed that Syrian regime would give away its chemical arsenal to remain in power, and it tried to appease Washington and the West regarding its nuclear file as a tactical step needed to accommodate the requirements of the current stage, and to restore its economy which was weakened by Western sanctions.
• The military coup in Egypt against President Muhammad Morsi was a disappointment for Hamas who has hailed his democratically elected regime as a regional support.
• Egypt’s coup regime has imposed an unprecedented siege on GS and on Hamas who runs the Strip, while the Egyptian judiciary is pushing towards the incrimination of Hamas and declaring it as a terrorist movement.
• Hamas, its popular base and its political and military figures are persecuted in the WB by the occupation forces and the Palestinian security forces.
• Hamas is suffering from regional pressure except for some support it receives from Turkey and Qatar. This support is vital, yet it falls short of Hamas’s aspirations and role given the conditions and constraints that govern the two countries.
The panoramic reading of the map of relations between Hamas and Iran and their intersections and contradictions, and based on the position of the two sides in the current regional landscape, the future bilateral relations may be assessed as follows:
• First scenario: Restoring the old relations including the resumption of Tehran’s financial and logistical support for Hamas.
• Second scenario: Failure to reach a resolution and the relations reach complete deadlock.
It is clear that Hamas and Iran need each other, agree on a package of common interests, and hold similar geo-political standing in the current regional scene. It is also true that there are contradictions between the two sides mainly because of the Syrian crisis, while Tehran is being closely watched by the West during the talks related to its nuclear file. Accordingly, the future of relations between Hamas and Iran is likely to be subject to the first and third scenarios that might result in a combination where the prevalent scenario would be determined based on the accompanying effective factors.
Factors Affecting the Likely Scenario:
• The deal to be sealed between the West and Tehran regarding the nuclear issue, and whether it will include other regional files. This could mean a Western acknowledgment of Iran’s role in the region with arrangements that would take place at the expense of Tehran’s relation with Hamas.
• The Syrian crisis and its possible tracks.
• The outcome of the internal Iranian differences, i.e., which of the two trends (Rouhani’s or that of the Revolutionary Guard) will have more weight in the future internal formula in Iran.
• The Western reply to the possible Iranian rapprochement towards Hamas and its impact on the negotiations regarding the nuclear issue.
• The developments in Egypt.
• The escalation of pressure on “political Islam” in the region, and the extent to which some gulf countries would try to target Hamas with harassments under the pretense of fighting “terrorism.”
1. Both sides have to manage their differences positively, and focus on common grounds, especially supporting the Palestinian issue, resistance forces, the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and breaking the GS siege.
2. Iran and Hamas, in collaboration with other concerned sides in the region, have to work on alleviating sectarian tension as it depletes the nation’s energy and resources. It also deviates the nation’s focus from the real conflict, which is that with the Zionist enemy.
3. Both sides have to work on preventing negative foreign intervention in the region.
4. Iran has to provide tangible assurances to the countries and people of the region regarding its regional role. Such assurances should be based on rejecting sectarianism, and acknowledging people’s right to achieve their aspirations and establish their political regimes freely.
5. Supporting the Palestinian issue and the resistance forces is a responsibility to be shouldered by the regimes and peoples in the Arab and Muslim region, without being used to exercise pressure on any side.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. ‘Abdul Rahman Farahanah for authoring the original text on which this strategic assessment was based.