Hamas Comeback as Iran’s Palestinian Military Arm
A turning-point in the fortunes of the extremist Palestinian Hamas occurred at a meeting in Beirut on Aug. 2, when Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullah received Saleh al-Arouri, founder of the Hamas military arm (Ezz e-Din al-Qasam) and Ramadan Shalah, head of the Islamic Jihad.
The encounter was showcased by Iran’s IRNA news agency as focused on continued “resistance” against Israel and the Temple Mount crisis in July.
It had an important, though undisclosed, sequel. Arouri has been living in Beirut’s Dahya district, a Hizballah stronghold, since June, when he was booted out of Qatar as a sop for Saudi Arabia. But although still regarded as Hamas’ military chief, and master of the organization’s West Bank networks, he had never been contacted by Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah
However, after meeting the Iranian official, Nasrallah summoned him to a meeting.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources reveal that Nasrallah had been instructed by Tehran to test the ground regarding the Palestinian radical organization’s willingness to charge course and revert to its former ties with the Islamic Republic. This would entail active terrorism on behalf of the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah coalition – both on the Palestinian issue and in the Middle East at large.
Hamas shares this coalition’s fierce opposition to diplomatic engagement with Israel in any shape or form, and especially the ongoing track initiated by the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Arouri replied that Hamas and its military arm would welcome the restoration of their old ties with Tehran.
Soon after this, in the first week of August, two Hamas delegations traveled to Tehran, one composed of officials who flew out of Gaza via Cairo, while the second, including Arouri, came from Beirut.
The formal pretext for their visit was President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration on Aug. 5 for his second term as Iran’s president. The real business went on quietly behind tightly closed doors.
The Hamas officials were first interviewed by Ali Akbar Velyati, senior political adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and foreign minister Mohammed Javed Zarif.
The down-to-earth meetings were then conducted in secret with high-ranking officers of Revolutionary Guards Corps and intelligence services, including Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s warfronts in Syria and Iraq. As Al Qods chief, Soleimani also runs Iran’s terrorist, sabotage and intelligence networks across the Middle East. That session was therefore highly relevant for Hamas’ future role in Tehran’s service.
Hamas chiefs were also introduced to Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi.
Some fence-mending was necessary between the Palestinian movement and Iran, but it soon tipped over into horse-trading.
Tehran broke with Hamas when, after the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011 the Palestinian radicals refused to side with the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad against the insurgency and their Damascus office was shut down.
The hard bargaining in Tehran concluded positively for both sides. Hamas embraced its old political, military and financial ties with Iran and Assad, while Tehran and its Lebanese surrogate Hizballah agreed to backing the Gaza rulers and supplying al-Qassam with the weapons required for waging war on Israel.
And indeed, in August, Iran resumed its monthly multimillion dollar remittance to Gaza’s rulers.
And so, Yahya Sinwar was able to tell reporters in Gaza City on Monday, Aug. 28: “Iran is the biggest financial and military backer of Hamas’ armed wing” and, with Iran’s help, “We are developing our military strength in order to liberate Palestine.”
He added more cautiously that Hamas is “making every effort to avoid a war… At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it. Iran’s military support for Hamas and al-Qassam is strategic.”
Tehran’s bill for its services was soon slapped down: Hamas was required to throw its support behind Assad.
The Palestinian extremists, reluctant to parade their reconciliation with Tehran, equivocated:
1. Assad must reopen Hamas’ political bureau headquarters in Damascus.
2. Recruiting offices must be permitted in Syria’s Palestinian camps and districts as well as training centers for new Hamas recruits.
Upon receipt of Hamas’ terms from Tehran, the Syrian ruler consented to both – on condition that Hamas publicly pledges support for himself, Bashar Assad.