The Iranian assassinated military commander, Qasem Soleimani, was carried to his final resting place on the shoulders of huge crowds packing the streets of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Speakers hailed the general as an Iranian national hero and the “martyr of Jerusalem”.
It was Ismail Haniyeh, the former Palestinian prime minister and leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, who named the slain general “the martyr of Jerusalem”. In his address to the Iranian mourners, the Palestinian leader vowed that the Palestinians will follow Soleimani’s footsteps: “To confront the Zionist project and the US influence.”
His speech infuriated Syrian, Iraqi and even Palestinian activists, who put Iran on the ranks of enemies, and consider the deceased general to be the striking arm that wreaked havoc in both Iraq and Syria, ruthlessly killing and displacing millions.
National hero or backer of tyrants?
Some considered Haniyeh’s speech hypocritical and rather hurtful to the feelings of millions of Syrians and Iraqis, who perceive Soleimani as a murderer who backed both the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, in their heartless killings of their own people.
For them, Soleimani is even quantitatively bloodier than the Israeli occupation. They argue that Israel might have killed thousands of Palestinians and displaced millions, but Iranian-backed regimes and militias have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced tens of millions, torturing some tens of thousands more.
This camp shows zero tolerance of Haniyeh’s glorification and veneration of the Iranian general, who, according to them, doesn’t deserve the badge of “the martyr of Jerusalem” on his chest. They consider that giving him such an honour is a provocation to the sentiments of millions of Muslim and Arab nations that suffered the oppressive policies of the Iranian regime and its proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
Neither political pragmatism, nor the regional and international alienation of the Palestinian resistance group, give its leaders the excuse or entitle them to issue forgiveness to the killed general, argue the critics of Haniyeh’s speech.
On the extreme end of this opinion, is a group that considers Hamas an apostate group that does not have the right to claim belonging to the Sunni front. This group is led by scholars from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are not only articulate in their antagonism and animosity towards Hamas, but also forthright in their friendship and intimacy to Israel.
Others consider Hamas’ move politically stupid, as it irritates the Sunni nations and switches them from being sympathisers with the Palestinian cause, to cursers of its representatives, who turned out to be Machiavellians wearing ‘Islamic’ masks.
However, there is a third group who consider Hamas’ relations with Iran tactical and pre-emptive, as it emanates from compulsive conditions. This group argues that most of the Sunni countries have not only abandoned the Palestinian cause, but are rather embroiled and complicit in conspiracies to liquidate it and deny the Palestinians’ rights.
Relations in perspective
To put things into perspective, we need to go back in time, to the attacks of 11 September, 2001. In the aftermath of George W. Bush’s speech, “You are either with us or with the terrorists”, almost all countries that used to support the Palestinian people were terrified to be labelled as supporters of terror, especially Saudi Arabia, which had 19 citizens amongst the hijackers and the perpetrators of the terrorist attack. As a consequence, all charity organisations that used to flood the Palestinian territories with humanitarian aid were contained, and denied all their activities. Later, when Hamas was elected in the 2006 elections, things got worse and the siege and boycott double folded.
The only country that was not mortified or ashamed of supporting the Palestinian cause was Iran, continually and openly supporting Palestinian groups, financially and logistically. However, when the Syrian revolution erupted in March 2011, it triggered the main wrangle between Hamas and Iran. Hamas considered the Syrian uprising an extension of the ‘Arab Spring’ wave, sparked by the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution, as a wave of public protests against the deplorable living conditions.
Hamas’ leadership reportedly urged the Syrian regime to contain the protests and negotiate people’s demands, and not to manhandle them violently. However, both the Syrian regime and its main backers in Tehran, discerned the people’s demands as a US-Israeli conspiracy to topple the Syrian regime and spoil the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ that contains Iraqi Shia, Syria, Lebanon and the resistance movement in Gaza.
These divergent standpoints deteriorated Hamas-Iran relations. Eventually, Hamas leadership left Syria at the end of 2012, and moved to Qatar. With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Iran and the Syrian regime thought that Hamas had completely departed from their orbit, to find a substitute Sunni power in Cairo and Istanbul. Since then the political relations between the two parties were not at their best.
In May 2017, following the election of the current Hamas leadership, relations improved again. This coincided with the Qatari diplomatic crisis that began in June 2017. Saudi Arabia embarked on a severe crackdown on Hamas’ supporters in Saudi Arabia, rounding up dozens of Palestinian doctors, engineers and traders across the country. The kingdom pretexted Hamas’ rapprochement with Iran, Riyadh’s longtime regional rival. Hamas claimed the captives were collecting donations for Palestinian charities and have no security charges.
Impulsive marriage or strategic partnership?
Hamas’ leadership reiterates publicly that Iran is among the few countries that have kept supporting the Palestinian resistance, and that Hamas will be defending Iran’s interests. These statements might have fuelled Saudi Arabia’s fears, vis-à-vis Hamas’ loyalty to the Iranian axis.
Hamas seems to believe that Iran has unequivocally supported the Palestinian cause, regardless of its motives, and thus it deserves to be paid back with a sense of faithfulness and gratitude for its support.
Some might accuse Iran of exploiting Hamas as a Sunni group, to promote Iran’s non-discriminatory policies. In a sense, Iran presents itself as if it does not exclusively support Shia groups, it is also backing a Sunni group in Gaza which would apparently refute any allegations about Iran’s fanaticism to the Shia sect.
Hamas leaders have never shown consent to Iran’s policy in Syria or Iraq. A policy which is definitely catastrophic, and seriously detrimental to proportionately all parties. However, there would be no political prudence in repeatedly criticizing such a policy, when the basic and principled standpoint is revealed.
Hamas’ position with Iran is far more sensitive and complicated than Turkey’s, which is successfully balancing and maneuvering in its relations with Iran and Russia.