There are growing signs of a rapprochement between Tehran and Hamas after approximately three years of difficulties caused by Hamas’s reservations regarding the Islamic Republic’s support for the Assad regime, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center says.
This “rapprochement has been manifested by an increasing number of visits by Hamas delegations to Iran and by public statements from senior Hamas figures about” the importance of Iranian military support, the center said in a report late on Tuesday. The center’s reports sometimes get out-sized recognition because they are composed by a unique mix of current and former top intelligence officials.
During the Syrian civil war, Hamas, which is Sunni, and Iran, which is Shi’ite, have found themselves rooting for opposite sides in the conflict, making it difficult to cooperate. However, as it became clear the Bashar Assad’s regime, aligned with Tehran, was going to defeat the Sunni side Hamas supports, Iran and the Palestinian movement started to warm up to each other again.
The report said that “until recently Hamas had kept its public statements about Iranian support vague, especially military support. However, in recent months” that has changed. For Hamas, Iranian military support is particularly important now as tensions increase with Israel “over the sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory in the wake of Trump’s declaration and Israel’s destruction of attack tunnels,” said the report.
“The declaration of Donald Trump of America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel provided Iran with another opportunity to emphasize its support for the Palestinians and to join Hamas in encouraging a new intifada against Israel in Judea and Samaria,” according to the center.
It noted that “Following Trump’s declaration, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, spoke to senior figures in the military-terrorist wings of both Hamas and the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and expressed Iran’s readiness to support them in every way possible.
“The Palestinian protests have provided an opportunity to promote Iran’s regional interests,” said the report.
For example, providing Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups with rockets and missiles can help “deter Israel by creating threats” along the border with the Gaza Strip.
The center said that even with “ups and downs,” a decade-long history of Iranian support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad suggest that in addition to providing weapons, Iran will give Hamas funds for constructing the organizations’ military infrastructures and to maintain its forces, transfer of technological know-how, and training by the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Qods Force.
Another reason for the warming of relations and for exposing this warming publicly could be the change in Hamas leadership.
“It is possible that the increase of the influence of the military-terrorist wing following the recent election of Yahya Sinwar to head the bureau in the Gaza Strip, also contributed to the rapprochement with Iran,” said the report.
The Amit Center’s head Reuven Ehrlich said that Sinwar and other military-wing operatives like him know that there is no other player that will give it military weaponry and support on the scale of Iran. Ehrlich does not, however, think that Hamas is using public statements about closeness to Tehran to pressure Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas into sweetening the deal he is offering it for national unity.
The sides have been in serious negotiations for national unity since October, and made some unusual initial progress, but have been stuck over Hamas handing over its weapons to PA control. Rather, the report indicated that Hamas’s reconciliation with Iran might hurt its relations with both the PA and Egypt, but that Hamas may have made a strategic decision to do anyway in light of its military needs.
Despite the warming relations between Hamas and Iran, Ehrlich said that he had seen no signs of any reconciliation between Hamas and the Assad regime. Before the civil war, there had been at times strong relations between the sides, and even Hamas offices in Syria.