The split in the Palestinian camp was more pronounced this week than ever. While a Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority team sat down with Israel in Washington for US-initiated peace talks after Israel agreed to release 104 jailed Palestinians, a secret Hamas delegation arrived in Tehran to patch up the Gaza rulers’ quarrel with Iran. debkafile reveals that the delegation, headed by Muhammad Nasr, included Hamas’ military wing commanders and some of the Palestinian prisoners freed to buy the release of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit.
Our Iranian sources reveal that Iranian officials made it clear that ties with Hamas would not be severed. But if the Palestinian group wanted the flow of money and weapons restored, it must revive its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and undersign Hizballah’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
This was easier said than done. The Hamas delegation in Tehran was in no position for an authoritative reply, because it could only speak for one of the three sections of its bitterly divided movement, as listed by debkafile sources:
1. The Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal’s party claims since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo that Hamas must henceforth obey the Brotherhood’s “world leadership” and not the leaders under military siege in Cairo.
This is obviously an equivocation since the Egyptian Brotherhood constitutes the movement’s world leadership. Taking this line invites the Egyptian military to continue its crackdown on Hamas and the sealing off of the Gaza Strip by the destruction of the smuggling tunnels to Sinai which sustained it. This operation has deprived the Hamas regime of more than half of its regular revenue and is jeopardizing its grip on the territory.
2. The second party is led by the Hamas prime minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh. He has broken relations with Meshaal and no longer defers to his authority. Haniyeh argues that his movement should not worry about its low fortunes or the enmity of many parts of the Muslim world, including the new regime in Egypt, Iran, Damascus and HIzballah, because its focus should be on holding onto power in Gaza and enhancing its authority in the local population.
Like Meshaal, Haniyeh also begs the question. How can he explain this policy when he is too broke to pay the salaries of government officials and members of the military wing, the Izzedin al Qassam Brigades.
3. The third group is headed by pro-Iranian, pro-Hizballah Mahmoud a-Zahar, along with the military wing commanders Mohammed Deif and Marwan Issa and the Hamas representative in Turkey, Saleh al-Aruri, who is also in charge of Hamas operations on the West Bank.
This group maintains that Hamas lacks the strength and resources for standing up to Egypt and its Persian Gulf backers led by Saudi Arabia and must therefore run back fast to the radical Iran-Syria-Hizballah fold.
The fate and fortunes of Hamas bear strongly on the US-led Israeli-Palestinian negotiating track which was resumed in Washington his week after a three-year stalemate and is due to continue within two weeks.
Israel has twice switched its orientation with regard to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in the past nine months. In November 2012, Israel accepted the diplomacy of Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt, Qatar and Turkey, for the ceasefire which ended its Pillar of Defense operation against Hamas missiles.
In July 2013, since the coup which overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Israel is cooperating with the Egyptian military and its champion, Saudi Arabia.
This cooperation surfaced when Egyptian Apache gun ships appeared over Gaza skies following a secret Israeli deal with Cairo. What will happen when the Egyptian military goes forward with its plans for a major operation against Hamas – almost certainly in the teeth of opposition by the United States and Palestinian Authority with whom Israel launched peace talks this week?