Hamas is committed to basic principles from which it has not deviated even when it joined forces with the Palestinian Authority to form a joint short-lived, democratically elected government in 2006. The key principles of the Hamas government included:
- Adherence to its charter, which maintains that jihad is the only means by which the entire territory of Palestine – including Israel proper - should be liberated.
- Refusal to recognize Israel’s existence under any circumstances – even if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders.
- No negotiations with Israel. Hamas acknowledges the possibility for negotiations only if Israel withdraws to the 1967 border and if Palestinian refugees are offered the right of return to Israel proper and their full property is restored. The Israeli government states that such a fulfillment of the right of return is tantamount to the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state.
- Utilizing all forms of “resistance” namely violence and terrorism including the use of suicide bombings against civilians as the primary means to achieve Hamas’ political objectives.
- The founding of an Islamic state ruled in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law) in which democracy is eliminated.
Hamas is not simply a Palestinian liberation movement. It is more than anything else a pan-Islamic movement that like its mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, views itself as part of a global Islamist movement. Hamas traces its link to the Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al Banna and his son-in-law, the Egyptian Said Ramadan, who in the 1940s had direct authority over the activities of the Brotherhood activities in Palestine. This connection continues to this day. Hamas lacks an authoritative religious leadership; it continues to depend on non-Palestinian religious personalities residing abroad to issue rulings of Islamic law. One of them is Yusuf al Qaradawi, an Egyptian residing in Qatar. Qaradawi is the purveyor of the Islamic rulings permitting Hamas to carry out suicide bombings.
Hamas’s pan-Islamic worldview extends beyond its contacts with other pan-Islamic movements. Hamas not only seeks money from the greater Muslim world for its operations, but also its covenant calls on Muslim countries surrounding Israel to “open their borders to Jihad fighters from among the Arab and Islamic people.” Although the organization has not been able to recruit foreign Islamic jihad fighters to its cause, Palestinian have played a considerable role in the global jihad. This was the case, for example, with Abdallah Azzam who taught in Saudi Arabia and was an associate of Osama bin Laden.
In this and in other ways, Hamas is not simply a local Palestinian movement, but rather aspires to become a driver of radicalized Islam, despite the fact that even at present its activities are limited to Palestine. The organization draws from both the Palestinian struggle and the rising wave of Islamic radicalism globally. For this reason, it is not a bridge too far for Hamas to accept Iranian patronage, ideological guidance, and support. The Iran-Hamas Relationship: Looking for the Money Trail
The relationship between Iran and Hamas went through three stages. In the first stage, in the late 1980s, the relations were marginal. During this period Iran’s attention was focused on rallying Shiite support in the Gulf, encouraging and sustaining international terror and building up Hizballah—its Shiite arm in Lebanon. During this period Hamas, a Sunni organization, had little to do with Iran, which showed clear sectarian preference for its Shiite clients. Hamas was also antagonized by Iran’s support for its Palestinian radical Islamist rival, Islamic Jihad, which Hamas viewed as a chief competitor for support in the Palestinian street.
The second stage began with the invasion of Iraq in 1991. As a result of Iraq’s weakened standing following the first Gulf War, Iran started to view itself as a budding regional hegemon and a prospective leader of the Third World. Its ties to Hamas grew substantially stronger after October 1992, when a Hamas delegation led by Dr. Musa Abu Marzuk was invited to Teheran for meetings with key Iranian figures, including the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Rouhallah Khomeini. Unconfirmed reports claim that as a result of this meeting, Iran promised to provide Hamas with an annual $30 million subsidy as well as weapons and advanced military training at revolutionary guard facilities in Iran, Lebanon, and Sudan. Indicative of the deepening relationship, Hamas opened an office in Teheran in 1993 and announced that Iran and Hamas share an “identical view in the strategic outlook toward the Palestinian cause in its Islamic dimension.” The new era of a warmer Hamas-Iran relationship followed a change in Iranian self-perception from what Hillel Frisch called, “a religious Bolshevik revolution” into a “Stalinization of Iranian politics.” In the Stalinization period, Iran started to view itself as a radicalized state power and began its search for like-minded clients in the region. Yet even in this period, Iran stilled viewed Hamas as a relatively minor regional player since it enjoyed only 14-18 percent support within the Palestinian population. Moreover, Hamas looked weak to Iran after its expulsion from Jordan in 1999 and following its division into two branches in the West Bank and Damascus. Because of these limitations on Hamas’ power during this period (1992-2000), Iran chose to invest in Hezballah, which was strengthening its position in Lebanon. Iran continued to support Hamas during this period, but only to a degree.
The third stage of the Iranian-Hamas relationship transformed the loose financial and military arrangements into a full-blown alliance. This stage followed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Palestinian violence since 2000, Arafat’s death in 2004, and Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006. These events, and particularly Hamas’ rise to power, demonstrated to Iran that Hamas could become a more useful partner in helping Teheran realize its quest for regional hegemony. The new Hamas government which soon after coming to power found itself almost completely isolated internationally, gravitated toward Iran because both regimes shared an ideological Islamist Weltanschauung and because Tehran offered a lifeline to the Hamas’ leadership which was otherwise cut-off from other means of support. In December 2006, Palestinian Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh stated publicly that “Iran constituted ‘stategic depth’ for the Palestinians,” the first time any declaration of support for Iran had been made openly by Hamas’ leadership. Hamas’s ties to Iran during this period have become so close that the intelligence chief of the rival PA government speculated that Iran masterminded and commended the Hamas’s coup against the Palestinian Authority in June 2007 and its violent takeover of Gaza. According to some analysts, Iran purposely fostered the relationship in order that the “final word” on matters regarding Israel would be Teheran’s, akin already to its relationship with Hezballah vis-à-vis Lebanon. Following the Money Trail: Iranian Financial Support to Hamas
The central way in which Iran exercises its influence over Hamas is through the transfer of funds to its leadership. Iran is Hamas’s main backer, but is not its only source of support. Other, less generous, financial backers include the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. Hamas also collects funds in the form of contribution or levies from its supporters. It purportedly imposes a religious tax (zakat) of 2.5 percent on the wages of its members in the territories, sometimes threatening violence upon failure to comply. Teheran, however, remain Hamas’s central source of revenue. As mentioned previously, since 1993 Hamas has received an annual subsidy of approximately $30 million in addition to military training from Iran. Reports indicate that since then Iranian funding to the organization has increased significantly. In January 1995, in a testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, the outgoing Director of the Central Intellligence Committee, James Woolsey, said that Iran provided more than $100 million to Hamas without giving a time period over which those funds have been provided. The relationship became gradually stronger over the next decade and in February 2006 Farhat Assad, Hamas’s spokesman in the West Bank, announced that Iran told Hamas’s leader, Khaled Mashaal that Iran “was prepared to cover the entire deficit in the Palestinian budget, and [to do so] continuously.”
Iranian financial support to Hamas substantially increased after the organization’s elections victory in August 2005. Immediately following the elections the group’s Syria-based leader, Khaled Mashaal, visited Iran and re-affirmed the ideological affinity between Hamas and its Persian mentor and their joint agenda of advancing radical Islam. “Just as Islamic Iran defends the rights of the Palestinians,” he said, “we defend the rights of Islamic Iran. We are part of a united front against the enemies of Islam.” The financial expression of the close relationship soon followed. In the same month Iran pledged aid to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government and by November claimed that it has already given $120 million. During a visit by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to Tehran in December 2006, Iran decided to boost its ties to Hamas and pledged $250 million in aid as compensation for the Western boycott. Unlike previous grants this transfer of money was to continue on a regular basis to cover various PA expanses. The Iranian funding was designated in part to pay wages for civil servants and members of the security forces affiliated with Hamas, as well as to construct camps for the security forces and to compensate Palestinian families that lost their homes as a result of Israeli military operations. Saudi Arabia also promised assistance to the Palestinian Authority but demanded that Hamas accept the Arab peace initiative and, increasingly, that it severs itself from the Iranian influence – a relationship that elicits great concern among Arab countries.
Iran’s support of Hamas at this period was not limited only to financial aid for domestic purposes. Hamas’ interior minister Said Sayyam visited Iran and Syrian in October 2006 where he received generous pledges of financial and military aid to improve the operational level of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz a-Din al-Kassam brigade. The commander of Hamas’ security force, Jamal Isma’il Daud Abdallah, also known as Abu Ubaida Al-Jarrah, has stated that Iran would train Palestinian operatives in its police training camps.
Following Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas had lost nearly all of its sources of support, Iranian funds continued to infiltrate into Gaza despite international attempts to isolate the regime. Hamas and Iran simply found new and unique ways to transfer the money. A glimpse into the new methods employed by Hamas and Iran presently was provided by Hamas hard-liner, Mahmoud Zahar, who was quoted in June as telling a German news magazine that he had personally carried $42 million in cash from Iran across the Gaza-Egypt border.Iran’s Clients and Strategy in the Levant
The strengthening of the alliance with Hamas is a key part of a larger Iranian strategy in the Levant. Since entering the Stalinist phase of its revolution, Iran employed a strategy of acquiring powerful regional clients through which it could carry its strategic and political goal of seeding Islamic revolution in Sunni Arab countries. This strategy is intended to engender the necessary conditions for the emergence of a modern super power caliphate to spearhead a holy jihad against the West, most notably the U.S. and Israel. Iran seeks clients with whom it shares an ideological outlook. Hamas fits this description since it does not seek an Islamic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza only, but rather seeks to create an Islamic state to replace Israel and take over territories more broadly in much of the Levant. Likewise, Iran’s client Hezballah, operating in Lebanon, is not driven by local considerations alone but chiefly by the strategic ambitions of its primary state sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran’s regional clients, most notably Hezballah and Hamas, allow Iran to foment conflict in the region through proxy means. The prime example for this strategy has been the Israel-Hezballah war waged in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Hamas’ kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and its rockets assaults against southern Israel in June 2006 triggered in part Hizballah’s kidnapping of two IDF soldiers in northern Israel followed by rocket attacks from southern Lebanon in July which brought about the second Lebanon war. In many ways this war, in which the IDF’s performance was lackluster across the board, can be described as the First Israeli-Iranian war.
Iran has also been able to use its clients to destabilize regional governments. Even after the Cedar revolution in March 2005 that forced Syrian forces out of Lebanon, Lebanon still had to address the destabilizing effects of the Hezballah’s military presence in south. The second Israeli-Lebanese war weakened the Lebanese government and threatened the democratic rule in the country. Likewise, Hamas’ electoral victory in the Palestinian territories so destabilized Palestinian politics that it eventually led to a Hamas coup against the PA and its hostile takeover of Gaza in June 2007.
In both of these cases, Iran used its clients to carry out a strategy of destabilizing the Levant. Lebanon is still threatened by Hezballah as is Israel’s northern border. Despite the heavy losses that the organization suffered during the war, reports indicate that it is rebuilding and rearming rapidly and will soon be able to pose an even greater threat to Israel than previously thought. Hamas, through its growing base in Gaza, not only continues to threaten the PA in the West Bank, but also now threatens to destabilize Egypt, which has a significant population sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan, where there is a large Palestinian population as well as sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, and Israel, which now finds itself outflanked and wedged between Hezballah in the north and Hamas in the south.
More recently Iran has also employed a Sunni proxy group – Fatah al Islam – in Lebanon to further its strategy of weakening the Lebanese government. Fatah al Islam is a pro-Syrian Palestinian Islamist group that, according to Lebanese and Israeli officials, is supported and directed by Syria and Iran and has ties to al Qaeda. On May 20, 2007 violence broke out between Fatah al Islam and the Lebanese government after investigations into a bank robbery ended in a standoff between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Fatah al Islam in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli. Iran timed its attack to coincide with the Lebanese government's petition to the U.N. Security Council to establish an international tribunal to prosecute the suspected killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, assassinated on February 14, 2005. But the Fatah al Islam attack failed to intimidate the government of Lebanon into withdrawing its request and allowing Syria, Iran’s closest strategic ally, to evade international scrutiny. Despite the bloodshed, the Security Council voted on May 30, 2007 to establish a tribunal. Iran employs it clients as a part of a greater effort to seek regional domination both in Arab Shiites and Arab Sunni communities that it hopes to penetrate and incite. Various Sunni Arab regimes fear Iran’s growing influence among the various Shiite communities of the Middle East and that a radical Shiite crescent could emerge and topple moderate Arab states. King Abdallah II of Jordan first sounded the alarm in December 2004 when he spoke about a rising Shiite crescent that would overwhelm the Sunni Arab world. This crescent would encompass Iran, the newly empowered Shiite majority in Iraq, Syria whose ruling Alawite minority elite are recognized as Shiite by some Shiite clerics and finally Lebanon whose Shiite population is growing and where Hezballah’s influence is becoming more pervasive. Echoing Abdallah’s concerns, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stated in April 2006 that “the Shiites are always loyal to Iran and not to the countries in which they live.”
Iran’s outreach into Shiite community is only part of the threat that the Arab world perceives and that the West should be concerned about presently. Iran has revealed its readiness to work in conjunction with Sunni Islamists in order to further its ambitions. Iran has not limited itself to Sunni Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but has reached out to Sudan’s Sunni radical leader Hasan Turabi through its Lebanese proxy in the 1990s.
Further evidence of Iran’s willingness to cooperate with Sunni radicals when it furthers its purposes can be found in the 9-11 commission report which talks about Iran’s cooperation with al Qaeda: “Iran facillated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and… some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” The report adds that “al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezballah.” After U.S. forces temporary defeated the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, many in al Qaeda network obtained refuge and assistance in Iran.
Iran’s connection to radical Sunnis led it to instruct its Sunni proxy Hamas to cooperate with the Sunni al Qaeda and bring it into the West Bank. Although Hamas and al Qaeda differ in certain respects, most notably their approach to democratic participation (Hamas embraced using the democratic process to obtain political power and bolster its Islamist agenda while al Qaeda rejects any such participation) the two started cooperating in August 2005 in order to advance both organizations’ global agenda of defeating the West. Al Qaeda has been present in the Palestinian authority since at least August 2000, when Israel’s security services uncovered a terror network linked to al Qaeda and headed by Nabil Okal, a Hamas operative from Gaza who received military training in Osama bin Laden’s camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After October 2005, the relationship between the two organizations became official and public when the Palestinian news agency Ma’an published a declaration in which al Qaeda revealed the establishment of a Gaza branch. The declaration states al Qaeda’s main goals as implementing Sharia (Islamic law), setting up a Sharia state, reviving the idea of the Caliphate in the hearts of Muslims, and working to create a world-wide Islamic caliphate.
Some of the major events in the recent history of Hamas/al Qaeda cooperation include: Hamas’ foreign minister Mahmoud al Zahar meeting in Pakistan in June 2006 with Jamaat-e-Islami leader Qazi Hussein Ahmed, who had close contacts with bin Laden during the 1990s. The jihadi wing of Jamaat-e-Islami and al Qaeda have collaborated as well as have maintained financial links. Also two days after Israel publicized the arrest of two al Qaeda operatives in Nablus, PA chairman Abbas told Al Hayat (London) in March 2006 that he received intelligence information pointing to the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the West Bank and Gaza. These operatives, Azzam Abu al Ads and Bilal Hafnawy, were indicted for enlisting recruits to carry out terror attacks for al Qaeda and planning a two-pronged terror attack with a suicide bomber and a car bomb in Jerusalem. Members of the gang who were recruited by al Qaeda’s infrastructure in Irbid, Jordan, were arrested by Israeli security forces in December 2005.
Thus it is faulty reasoning to maintain that international terrorist organizations will not cooperate with organizations whose religions and ideological backgrounds are at variance with their own. The case of Jordanian born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi underscores this point. Even as the head of al Qaeda in Iraq and slaughterer of hundreds of Iraqi Shiites, he was also a recipient of Iranian assistance after 2001. More importantly, Iran’s cooperation with Sunni clients points to the fact that it is less interested in spreading radical Shiism per-se and more in fomenting a global, green, radical Islamist revolution. The threat in the Middle East today is not, as King Hussein asserted, the emergence of a Shiite crescent, but the rise of a radical Islamist force spearheaded by Iran that unites radical Sunnis and radical Shiites and creates a new paradigm of conflict with the West.Conclusions
The new situation in the Middle East in which the radical Muslim world, Shiite and Sunni alike, unites under Iranian leadership to confront the West represents an enormous challenge for the Western world. During the last century the U.S. defined its foreign policy around deterring a hegemonic power and ideology from dominating the continent of Europe. The U.S. fought World War I and II and the Cold War in accordance with this premise. Today, Europe has been largely stabilized and the principal global threat stems from the present day Middle East. Iran in many ways is now replacing the former Soviet Union. Not only does it seek nuclear weapons, but it carries a radical ideology which is wishes to export. In so doing, it seeks to become the center of a new radical Islamic empire that wishes to confront the West, destroy its ideals, and eventually replace it as the world hegemon.
In this new Middle East, in which the rise of a new Islamic force threatens the West and its allies, it is really futile to speak of a peace-process or a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The key conflict in the Middle East today is no longer simply the Palestinian issue and its solution will not come from another attempted agreement. The Israeli-Palestinian dimension of Middle Eastern politics has been eclipsed by the growing struggle between Islamism versus the West. It is this conflict that will shape the future not only of the Middle East, but also of the Western alliance. More specifically, the Iran-Hamas axis will eventually bring about more violence both to Israel and to other Western allies in the region. The writing of a Middle East plagued by instability and violence, and the threat it poses to the West, are already on the wall.