Gone are the days when Mahmoud A-Zahar, Gaza’s Hamas strongman, received a royal welcome in Tehran. When he arrived in the Iranian capital Sunday, Sept. 9 he found a chilly reception, although he brought with him in secret a large Hamas military delegation headed by Deputy Military Commander Marwan Issa, debkafile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources report.
Their mission was to persuade Iran’s leaders that Hamas was entirely to be trusted to pull its weight in collective retaliation for a potential Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program. The Hamas delegation met Sunday, Sept. 9, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, and National Security Council Chairman Saeed Jalili, capping the talks begun in Beirut Saturday with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
A-Zahar kept a close eye on the military chiefs throughout those meetings to make sure they did not step out of the “party line.”
He tried explaining, according to our sources, that the divisions among Hamas leaders over their orientation between factions urging gradual disengagement from Iran and Syria in favor of closer ties with Gulf governments opposed to Tehran and Damascus, and the pro-Tehran faction led by A-Zahar which also seeks better relations with Cairo, are no more than subtle nuances and far from resolution. The important thing, the Palestinian extremists explained, was that Iran, Hizballah and Hamas stood fast together as the Islamic “resistance forces” ranged against Israel – especially now that the Middle East was on the threshold of war.
A-Zahar hoped to wipe off the slate Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s criticism of the Assad regime’s brutal suppression of the Syrian revolt and convince Iranian and Hizballah leaders that Hamas is as staunch as ever in its determination to fight Israel.
He pushed Issa, Deputy Commander of Hamas’s military wing Ezz a-Din al-Qassam, forward as the man in charge of coordinating joint military operations that would prove to Iran that Hamas had not gone soft on collaborating with Syria and Hizballah when the time came to hit Israel back for attacking Iran – as many Western and Arab circles were freely claiming.
However, according to our Iranian sources, the Hamas leaders’ welcome in Iran was cool and their explanations and assurances received with skepticism.
The failure of their mission confronts the Palestinian rulers of the Gaza Strip with three tough problems:
1. Iran and Hizballah have severed most of their ties with Hamas, except for providing its combatants with training at facilities outside Tehran and at Hizballah bases in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley. But no more weapons supplies or Iranian military advisers for guidance in developing new and advanced fighting units.
2. The lion’s share of Iranian-Hizballah military investment in Palestinian extremist organizations has been diverted from Hamas to the Jihad Islami of the Gaza Strip. That organization has been built up to three battalions and labeled “The Storm Brigades.” The missiles formerly assigned to Hamas are allocated to Jihad.
Heads of the Hamas military wing are concerned that the Jihad is outstripping them in numbers, training and equipment.
3. Tehran has stopped funding to the Hamas government, which finds itself in financial straits as severe as the rival Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The $200 million which Qatar recently gifted the Gazan government is a drop in the ocean. No succor can be sought from bankrupt Egypt.