Glen Segell

For how much longer will Hamas be a proxy of Iran?

There is no doubt the Palestinian organization that appears to have governance of Gaza and that is known as Hamas, has close ties with Iran. However events over the last few weeks have place in doubt whether Iran has absolute control over Hamas. Israeli psychological warfare has shown this!

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has threatened to destroy Hamas “completely” in a future war. However in a unique interview published in the Palestinian Al Quds newspaper a week ago, he said that said that Israel has no interest in initiating a new offensive in Gaza. So how would Israel destroy Hamas?

The answer came through his hawkish strategy. He offered that Israel would be the first to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, lift the blockade and build crucial economic infrastructure in the Palestinian territory — such as a seaport and airport and industrial zones — if rocket launches, attack tunnels and gun running were to stop.

Making such an offer in such a newspaper immediately placed the future of Hamas in doubt in the minds and in the response from other Palestinian leaders and Iran. It also placed in doubt the future of the other Palestinian governance organization, the Palestinian Authority.

In the same interview Liberman criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not making difficult decisions and striking a final peace deal with Israel, and for presiding over a corrupt hierarchy. If Palestinian elections were held today, he said, “[Abbas] would be deposed.”

He clearly implied that peaceful Hamas governance with economic prosperity and the new airport and seaport in Gaza would be the Palestinian peoples preferred choice. In doing so he cleverly deployed a psychological wedge between Abbas and the Palestinian people and between the PLO and Hamas.

The response from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority was immediate. The interview with Liberman was published on Monday and on Thursday the 81 year old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held a rare meeting with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal and Hamas’s Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh, over a business lunch in Qatar in direct talks aimed at ending years of hostility between the two movements.

The response from anti-Israel movements was also immediate. The Palestinian National Committee for Boycotting Israel, the Palestinian branch of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement, also rebuked Al Quds, saying the publishing of any interview with an Israeli minister constituted a “clear violation” of the boycott on Israel.

Hamas is reputedly a proxy of Iran and Iranian media also responded. However it offered a different view. There was no mention of Liberman’s offer to lift the blockade of Gaza or the rebuilding of Gaza. There was no mention of the meeting between Hamas and the PLO. There was no mention of the Hamas response, by Hazem Kassem, that a cease-fire without disarmament might be possible while the economic reconstruction was in progress.

Instead Iranian media, such as PressTV, misquoted the Al Quds newspaper interview. PressTV claimed that Liberman was threatening to destroy Hamas in any future conflict in Gaza and had made a death threat  against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh,

In doing so the Iranian media highlighted the difference of opinion between Iran and Hamas on the future of Hamas as a proxy of Iran should there be any agreement with Hamas, be it between Israel and Hamas or between the PLO and Hamas.

Hamas leaders would prefer to be international leaders in their own right of a Palestinian state rather than be puppets of an Ayatollah. Any future Palestinian state would more likely to be a majority Sunni than Shia. So it would look towards Saudi Arabia and not Iran. That begs the question: For how longer will Hamas be a proxy of Iran?

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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