As the Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear program grab the headlines, there is an interesting sidebar occurring in the Middle East. It seems that the sanctions imposed
by the United States-led coalition have taken a toll on the financial support that Iran provides to some of its proxies, most notably Hamas.
Just as there are two sides to the major conflict in the region—Israel versus the Palestinians and two sides in the Palestinian camp—Hamas versus the Palestinian Authority, so there are two sides within Hamas itself—the external leadership versus the internal leadership.
The ‘external” leadership is the once undisputed leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, who had been living in Damascus. The violence there caused Mashaal to
reconsider his support of a regime that was butchering its own people, and to
reconsider the benefits Hamas derived thereof Hamas, which is the Palestinian wing of the Moslem Brotherhood, should not be in opposition to its Syrian branch. So Mashaal decided to get out of Dodge. But like someone who quits a job without having one to replace it (and he has offered to step down, wrongly thinking that his people wouldn’t let
him), he has been unable to find a new home.
Several of his colleagues have found refuge in Cairo, Amman, and even back in Gaza, but no country is willing to become the new headquarters of Hamas. So Mashaal remains a wandering Arab.
His “internal” leadership rival, Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, made a recent trip to Tehran where he kissed and hugged the Supreme Leader and asked for financial assistance. Ayatollah Khamenei may feel more tolerant of Haniyeh than Mashaal, but there is some question in Tehran as to whether the Hamas game is still worth the candle.
To briefly recap, Hamas is torn by two factions, their financial angel is backing away, and they are now more concerned with their own survival than attacking and destroying Israel, its putative raison d’etre. It’s a wonder that anyone wants to lead it.
Iran is clearly unhappy with Hamas’ stance toward Syria. Add to that the statement from Hamas that if Israel were to attack Iran, that Hamas would not necessarily attack Israel. Realizing that there are two Assads to every story, Iran has taken another look at its relationship with Hamas and has determined that the terror group is expendable. They have found cheaper proxy alternatives within Gaza, namely the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). In the recent rocket attacks, most of the launches were from these two. Very few rockets came from groups
unaffiliated with Iran.
Iran needs to keep the heat on Israel, if for no other reason than to divert attention away from itself and its nuclear program. And it diverts Israel’s military attention and resources at a time when attacking Iran is a topic of discussion, if not more, in Tel Aviv. Further, any unrest in the region tends to drive up the price of oil, providing Tehran with much-needed revenue.
A war with Israel right now is the last thing Hamas needs. Without financial and military backing from Iran, they could not sustain any kind of hostile action for long. And they have an uncertain future that is hampering their agenda against Israel. Egypt
brokered a cease-fire after the last round of action between Gaza and Israel. But that was with Hamas. Who do they bring to the table next time?
Iran continues to exert major influence in Gaza through the remaining thread of a relationship with Hamas and the Iranians new proxies, and has no reason to back off its position of “Your pain, our gain,” as long as they face international pressure themselves. Iran is more tolerated than loved in the region, and have bought their friends. Without their continued financial backing, might we find that the alliances in the desert have been built on shifting sands?