Hamas’ Foreign Policy Approach to Iran

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

Since the establishment of the Islamic resistance movement, known as Hamas, in 1987, this current availed itself of Iran's spiritual support despite being the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, until it won the Palestinian Legislative Council’s elections in 2006 and turned into the ruling part of the council. One year later, in summer of 2007, Hamas wrested complete control of the Gaza Strip from another major Palestinian organization, Fatah, through a war. Up to this juncture, relations between Iran and Hamas stood at a high level. However, later developments in the Middle East and the Arab Spring gradually unveiled the secret layers that stemmed from ideological and dormant interests in the political relations of Hamas.

From the viewpoint of this political actor, the Arab Spring reflected changing political realities of the region, which would finally end in new groupings in the Middle East and alter political configuration of the region. Based on this view, the political bureau of Hamas reached the conclusion that it was time to get back into the arms of the Sunni world. Therefore, head of that bureau, Khaled Mashal, at first tried to establish a rational balance between old allies and new friends of Hamas in order to gain the highest degree of political benefits, but special circumstances in Syria did not provide much political maneuvering room for this group and they were forced to make a tough choice.

In making that choice, Hamas’ strategic assessment of the future course of the region was based on three components and consequences of the Arab Spring; that is, reduced influence of the United States in the region, domination of Sunni Islamic movements, and reduced power of the resistance movement in the region as a result of the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. However, prolongation of the Syria crisis, untenable performance of Sunni movements in Iraq and Syria, and floating nature of the United States’ complicated policies in the Middle East, proved that Hamas had made a strategic mistake, especially after the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers opened a new chapter in regional and global conditions.

Without a doubt, following the nuclear deal, Iran will have powerful and more effective tools at its disposal to offer spiritual and political support to Hamas and its other allies in international organizations, and this issue will have a great impact on the approach taken by the political bureau of Hamas. Khaled Mashal and his colleagues at the political bureau, who because of changing their policies were under tremendous pressure from Iran's allies such as Abu Marzook, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Emad al-Elmi, are currently witnessing new changes in their surrounding environment.

Of course, it must be noted that Iran has so far shown strategic self-restraint in this regard and has not considered new behavior and direction of Hamas as an anti-Iranian measure. Therefore, the recent meeting between Khaled Mashal and Saudi King Salman, despite extensive media propaganda, was not considered by Tehran as an anti-Iranian measure and Iran did not show a sharp reaction to this unprecedented meeting.

The Islamic Republic has reached the understanding that the foreign policy of Hamas is complicated and cannot be reduced to a simple formula. Of course, Hamas, like all other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, believes in political Islam, but its nationalistic views and firm belief in the Palestinian cause and establishment of an independent Palestinian state have imparted some form of pragmatism to the foreign policy of Hamas. Despite common views, Hamas’ foreign policy is not unified and a wide spectrum of tendencies ranging from Islamist figures to Western-minded elites influence the foreign policy orientation of this movement.

The relative importance of these forces and their influence on the foreign policy of Hamas is determined at various junctures by regional developments and internal conditions of the movement. As a result, the Arab Spring developments increased the influence of the Western-minded elites and moderate Islamist figures within this movement. However, following the nuclear deal, some analysts believe that supporters of Iran will gain more influence in setting the foreign policy of Hamas and this will change the balance in favor of Tehran and will alter the dominant paradigm of Hamas’ foreign policy one more time. It is obvious that regardless of the impact of regional groupings, the best option for the foreign policy of Hamas is to choose a suitable strategy to maintain and develop relations with both power poles in the Islamic world and to take advantage of huge capacities of Iran and Saudi Arabia in order to realize the Palestinian cause.

Key Words: Hamas, Foreign Policy, Iran, Muslim Brotherhood, King Salman, Arab Spring, Strategic Assessment, Sunni Islamic Movements, Kebriaeezadeh

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*Photo Credit: Godsna.Org