Hamas maneuvers among regional powers
This story originally appeared at The Media Line.
Hamas is attempting to maneuver between rival regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hamas is siding with Iran against the US on negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but with Saudi Arabia against Iran on the Shi’ite Houthi attempts to take over Yemen.
“An agreement (on Iran’s nuclear program) would be in Hamas’s favor, since Hamas (already) has strong ties with Iran, and this agreement would improve its relationship with American,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Media Line.
Yet when it comes to the situation in Yemen, Hamas has declared publicly that they support the Saudi led coalition which is supporting the Sunni government, against the Shiite Houthi rebel militias which has tried to take over the country.
“What is happening right now is best for the Hamas movement on all political levels,” Zahar said. “We need to be on their side too in order to gain more friends in the region, especially with Egypt. This is why we released our opinion recently about Yemen when we said that we are with the legitimate government in Yemen.”
Hamas is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and under former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ties with Egypt were close. But since new Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power, ties have soured. Sisi recently declared Hamas a terrorist organization, and has sealed off hundreds of tunnels that ran underground from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Hamas taxed the goods coming through these tunnels, and Egypt’s crackdown has deprived Hamas of a much-needed source of revenue.
Mukhaimar Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, explained that Hamas, which is Sunni, wishes to improve its relationship with Saudi Arabia and therefore is voicing tacit support for the country’s actions in Yemen.
“Saudi Arabia leads the alliance in the region, containing many of the parties that enjoy a good relationship with Hamas – Turkey and Qatar – and Saudi Arabia may be the gateway to improving Hamas's relationship with Egypt,” he said.
These countries are reassessing their position toward Hamas, he said, because they have learned that the alternative to Hamas are groups such as al-Qa’ida and Islamic State.
It appears therefore that Hamas is keen to move closer to Saudi Arabia and are willing to distance themselves from Iran in order to do so. Mousa Abumarzoq, a member of the political bureau of Hamas said recently that “the Hamas movement is concerned with good and stable relations with Saudi Arabia.” Marzouq also revealed that the head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, will be visiting Saudi Arabia though he did not specify when.
Until now, Hamas has been closely allied with Iran, which has also provided most of the funding for the organization which has controlled Gaza since 2007. Talal Okal, a political writer at the al-Ayyam newspaper based in Ramallah, says that “Hamas wants to withdraw from the Iranian camp and head towards the Sunni Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, out of its isolation.” Okal said that Hamas sees the move towards Saudi Arabia as a way to reduce the isolation they have been feeling in recent years from Arab and international states alike.
“For the last two years Hamas has paid the price for being close to Iran,” Okal told The Media Line. “It was treated as its agent in the Middle East and especially in Palestine, as Hizbullah was seen in Lebanon.”
According to Okal, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are attempting to derail Iranian success in the nuclear negotiations and to undermine the country’s wider influence by intervening in Yemen. He adds that their claims to be defending the legitimate government of Yemen “could only be believed by the naïve.”
Now, with the nuclear talks continuing despite having passed their deadline, the Sunni coalition – particularly those countries in the Gulf – fear that the USA is about to ditch its long standing allies in order to appease their common foe, Iran, at the very moment that the Shiite state is on the offensive across the region.
A joint effort to contain Iran and its proxies after the 1979 Islamic Revolution was the key reason for the economic, political and military ties that were forged in recent decades by the US and its allies in the Gulf. These ties have been under strain since the thawing of relations between Washington and Tehran, following the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2013.
“We’ll not raise this issue right now but the US is behaving with double standards that are in these negotiations by the attempts to control Iran’s nuclear program while Israel's nuclear program, which risks security and peace in the region, is not held accountable,” an official in the Palestinian Authority, who asked to remain anonymous told The Media Line.
“On the one hand the US is supporting Saudi Arabia against Iranian expansionism in the Gulf,” he said. “On the other hand in Iraq’s war against Islamic State the US has in fact become a partner with Iran, which maintains brutal Shiite militias.”