First Published: 2017-11-16

Iran pushing for Hamas-Hezbollah reconciliation
Observers said former allies are both likely to benefit from rapprochement.
Middle East Online

“The alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is a direct result of the renewed relations between Iran and Hamas”

While Egypt medi­ated a reconcilia­tion deal between Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah, Iran appeared to be pushing for a thaw of ties between Hamas and the Lebanese movement Hezbol­lah and both were unwelcome de­velopments for Israel.

Hamas has moved to strengthen ties with Hezbollah after the two parties, which have been engaged in hostilities against Israel, took opposing sides in the Syrian war.

Prior to the popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011, Hamas was an ally of the Damascus regime, Hezbol­lah and regional heavyweight Iran, in what was branded as “the axis of resistance” against Israel.

While initially refraining from criticising Assad, Hamas later an­nounced that it supported the as­pirations of the Syrian people in its uprising against the regime. Its po­sition on Syria led to the souring of relations with Iran, which reduced funding of the Palestinian move­ment.

Iranian and pro-Hezbollah me­dia outlets accused Hamas of ac­tively supporting Syrian rebels, a charge the Palestinian group de­nied. As the war in Syria appears to be dying down, ties between Hamas and Hezbollah seem to be thawing, likely with encourage­ment from Iran.

“The alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is a direct result of the renewed relations between Iran and Hamas,” wrote Khaled Abu Toameh in the website of the Gatestone Institute.

Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s deputy political chief, had a rare public meeting with Hezbollah Secretary- General Hassan Nasrallah in Bei­rut on October 31. The meeting occurred soon after Arouri visited Iran.

Pro-Hezbollah al-Manar TV said Arouri and Nasrallah discussed “the Zionist aggression against Gaza and its ramifications” follow­ing an Israeli attack on a tunnel in the Gaza Strip that killed eight members of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh took part in a Hezbollah-sponsored con­ference on the Balfour Declaration on November 1 in Beirut, which kicked off with a message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other senior partici­pants included Hezbollah’s deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem.

Observers said both sides were likely to benefit from rapproche­ment.

“It is no secret that Hamas, de­spite having different positions regarding the Syrian crisis, needs Hezbollah when it comes to fund­ing, training, securing supply lines for weapons and providing resi­dence for Hamas cadres in Leba­non,” Adnan Abu Amer, wrote on the website Al-Monitor.

“For its part, Hezbollah needs a Palestinian movement, such as Hamas, to restore its popularity among Arab public opinion, which it lost after being involved in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen against Sunni Muslims. Hamas… may help dispel Hezbollah’s sec­tarian image,” Amer added.

The meetings between Hamas leaders and Hezbollah officials have raised alarms in Israel.

In September, the head of Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet, Na­dav Argaman, warned that Hamas and Hezbollah were gearing up for a new conflict against Israel. Arga­man’s warning echoed a statement by Israeli Defence Minister Avig­dor Liberman in August in which he accused Arouri of attempting “to boost the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah” with the help of Iran to plan attacks against Israel.

Israel demanded Hamas cut rela­tions with Iran but the Palestinian movement responded by saying that the visit by its delegation to Tehran is “a rejection of the Zionist entity’s conditions to cut ties with (Iran).”

The Hamas-Hezbollah thaw is likely to also ire Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose relations with Iran and the Lebanese movement had hit an all-time low.

“The Egyptians are trying to rein in Hamas from its past and cur­rent ties with Iran, which supports Hezbollah,” wrote Jack Khoury in Haaretz.

Egypt has not publicly criticised Hamas for strengthening ties with Hezbollah and Iran, possibly be­cause the Palestinian leaders have made a number of gestures to win Cairo’s favour.

“To ensure Hamas’s survival, [Hamas leaders] are even willing to sever ties with their mother ship, the Muslim Brotherhood, to appease Egypt, its saviour and Brotherhood nemesis,” wrote Sh­lomi Eldar in Al-Monitor.

Despite rising tensions between Saudi Arabia, which is an ally of Egypt, and Hezbollah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo was not mulling measures against the Lebanese movement.

“The subject is not about tak­ing on or not taking on [Hezbol­lah]; the subject is about the sta­tus of the fragile stability in the region in light of the unrest fac­ing the region,” Sisi told CNBC. “The region cannot support more turmoil,” he added.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


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