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June 21, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9405

Hamas' Growing Closeness To Iran And Rapprochement With Assad Regime Enrages Syrian Opposition

June 21, 2021
Iran, Syria, Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 9405

The recent Hamas-Israel conflict brought into focus the years-long close relationship between Hamas and Iran. During the operation, Hamas leaders were in constant contact with Iranian offsssicials, and each side fulsomely praised the other. Both stressed Iran's contribution to the development of Hamas' military capabilities.

As part of its achievements in the conflict, Hamas sought also to revive its relations with the Syrian regime, that had been disrupted with the outbreak of the civil war there in 2011 following the organization's alignment with the Syrian opposition and criticism of the regime's violent repression of the protests.[1] In this endeavor, Hamas consulted with Iran and Hizbullah, and Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Na'im Qassim declared, several times, that there was progress towards a revival of relations between the sides.[2]

While the Syrian regime has not yet officially spoken about this, Palestinian elements who met with President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus on May 20 stated that he had sent his blessing through them to the Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

Hamas's rapprochement with the Syrian regime and its close relationship with Iran have brought harsh criticism from the Syrian opposition. Various opposition elements see expressions of support for Iran and for Assad as betrayal of the Syrian people, and argue that it will have serious ramifications for Hamas.


Gaza billboard presents Iranian Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani as a "martyr for Jerusalem" (Source: Manartv.com/lb, January 2, 2021).

This report will review Hamas's increasingly close relationships with Iran and the Syrian regime, and the Syrian opposition's reactions to them.

Hamas Thanks Iran For Its Support, Expresses Desire For Rapprochement With Assad Regime

Even prior to the recent Gaza conflict, senior Hamas officials spoke frequently about the importance of Iran's aid to the organization and its contribution to its increased military might and improved missile capabilities. Boasts about Iran's contribution to Hamas's military development came also from many Iranian officials.[3] During the conflict, there were many phone conversations between Hamas leaders and Iranian officials, in which Iran promised its support for the Palestinians,[4] and in a speech at the end of the conflict, Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya thanked Iran for the financial and military aid it had provided.[5] Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar also expressed his thanks to Iran.[6]

At the same time, there was a flurry of reports about mediation by Iran and Hizbullah in order to facilitate a rapprochement between Hamas and the Syrian regime. Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Qassim said on May 28: "The issue of the Syria-Hamas relationship has been monitored in previous months, and there has been progress, including in the possibility of a renewal of relations between them. What happened in the honorable Sword of Jerusalem battle [Hamas' name for the recent Israel-Gaza conflict] accellerated these steps."[7] A member of the Hamas leadership said that the organization would soon consult with Hizbullah and Iran in order to "take the pulse of the Syrians in the matter of renewing relations with [our] organization," and assessed that the Syrian reactions to this would be positive. [8] The Lebanese website Almarkazia.com reports that Esmail Qaani,  commander of the Qods Force in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), visited Beirut to coordinate with Hizbullah on the issue of Hamas' return to Syria and Lebanon.[9]

Against this backdrop, it was pointed out that on May 20 a meeting was held in Damascus between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and commanders and representatives of Palestinian factions, not including Hamas. According to one participant – Talal Naji, an aide to the secretary general of the PFLP–GC – Assad in this meeting "conveyed his blessings to the Hamas and Palestinian [Islamic] Jihad fighters and to all the resistance factions in Palestine." PFLP deputy secretary-general Abu Ahmad Fuad, also a participant, said that Assad had stressed that "the doors of Syria are open to all the resistance factions, whatever their names may be."[10] In response, Hamas commander Osama Hamdan said: "We will respond to anyone who blesses us with [even] better words... It is natural for relations with Damascus to return to what they once were."[11]

Syrian Oppositionists: Hamas' Support For Iran And The Assad Regime Is A Betrayal We Will Not Forget

The Hamas officials' expressions of gratitude to Iran, and the apparent rapprochement between this organization and the Assad regime, hurt and angered elements in the Syrian opposition, which often expresses support for the Palestinians and did so especially during the recent round of fighting in Gaza. Syrian oppositionists, who see points of similarity between their struggle against the regime and the Palestinians' struggle against Israel, found it difficult to accept the Hamas officials' support for the Syrian regime and its ally Iran, whom they accuse of perpetrating crimes against the Syrian people.

Nasser Al-Hariri, chair of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, took a fairly moderate tone, saying: "The untypical statements we sometimes hear from certain [Palestinian] factions regarding the criminal [Syrian] regime and regarding Iran, which have killed and expelled [both] Syrians and Palestinians, are reprehensible statements that do not represent the Palestinian people and will naturally not affect our position and our strong ties with our brothers in Palestine… During the last war [in Gaza] we saw all the world's free peoples acting to assist Palestine, while the paper [tigers] and the boasters of the so-called resistance axis all vanished and were as silent as the grave… For 50 years they have been exploiting [the cause of] liberating Palestine, and have been oppressing people using this hollow claim as a pretext. All they have done for Palestine and the [Muslim] nation is to reject freedom and the independence of the peoples, while oppressing, killing and expelling free people. Their conduct is no less hideous than that of the Israeli occupation…"[12] 

Abu Barzan Al-Sultani, the commander of "Division 20," an opposition militia close to Turkey, had harsher words for Hamas. He tweeted: "Nobody ascribes more importance to the Palestinian cause than the Syrians, Yemenis and Iraqis, yet Hamas ignored the [spilled] blood of these peoples and praised their killers. This will have significant consequences in the future, and Hamas must mend this mistake and apologize. We support Gaza and Palestine and will sacrifice our lives for them, but the blood of our martyrs is [also] dear to us."[13]

Syrian social media activist Mahmoud Talha also rebuked Hamas, saying: "The [Syrian] rebels are united in their support for the Palestinian people. However, there is controversy over the positions published by some leaders of the Palestinian resistance, which hurt the Syrians. These included lavish praise for Iran and Qassem Soleimani, commander of [the IRGC] Qods Force [who was killed in 2020]… The number of Syrians killed by Soleimani in the name of religious and sectarian slogans is probably equal to the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli enemy… It is saddening that the positions of the leaders of the Palestinian resistance ignore this and present him as a martyr [who died] for Jerusalem…[14]  We will never forget this stab in the back."[15]

Syrian Journalist: Anyone Who Expresses Gratitude To The Syrian Regime And Iran Is Our Enemy

In an article on the opposition website Orient-news.net, Syrian journalist Mahmoud Rahil slammed the Hamas leaders, saying that their words of praise for Iran and the Assad regime cannot be justified. He wrote: "Syrians around the world followed the deadly events in Gaza and Jerusalem and expressed their full support for their Palestinian brothers and their rejection of the Zionist occupation, its settlement activities and its killing of innocent people… But what sparked condemnations from many activists was the statements of some Hamas leaders, who thanked Iran for helping the resistance with money and weapons and declared their willingness to renew relations with the regime of the criminal Bashar Al-Assad, after congratulating him and praising the Palestinian factions that met with him… These stupid statements – bereft of any respect for the feelings of the Syrians, whom the Iranian and Syrian regimes have murdered – prompted condemnation and censure of Hamas for supporting murderers and criminals.   

"Anyone who expresses gratitude to Iran, its militias and all its servants in the Syrian regime and Hizbullah, and who declares his desire to renew relations with them, is our enemy. He is an enemy of the millions of Syrians who sacrificed [their lives]. He [is like someone who] sees with only one eye, [for] he notices the hand that gives him money but not the other hand that murders his brothers. Our hostility towards Iran exceeds our hostility towards the Israeli occupier, for the crimes perpetrated by the Israeli occupation against the people of Gaza in this entire war are equal to the crimes perpetrated by the Iranian occupier against the Syrians in just a few minutes…

"Some might say that the resistance has no choice but to support Iran, especially after being abandoned by all the Arabs and Muslims. [They might ask:] If you expect Hamas not to collaborate with Iran, what is the alternative? My answer is that one does not need the help of a criminal and murderer who kills one's brothers. Hamas is a resistance movement which presumably believes in Allah, and knows that all its weapons and abilities are useless without Allah's help. This [divine] help requires no alternatives, and whoever [relies on it] does not need to beg for the aid of criminals and murderers. All he needs is certainty and sincere faith [in Allah], and to cooperate with loyal and honorable people in preparing and gearing up for war. The money Iran gives Hamas is stolen from Arab countries, and the weapons it sends Hamas, if any, were tested on the Syrians before being transferred to Hamas.

"Someone else might say: Hamas does express implicit support for the Syrian revolution, and its statements [in praise of Iran and Assad] are only meaningless polite words, uttered for media purposes – so why don't we ignore them? My answer is: Who says that media [statements] are meaningless? Isn't the media one of the major sources of support for the Palestinian cause? Were it not for the media, all of Palestine would have been lost.  Iran… is fully aware what impact words like 'we thank the Islamic Republic of Iran' have when said by a representative of the resistance into the receptive ears of 1.5 billion Muslims. It is fully aware what it means when the resistance is willing to renew its ties with a criminal regime that has killed over a million of its own people. It knows very well that the words and statements of these people at this time have a role in confirming Iran's false theory that it is defending Jerusalem and Palestine,  and that they will confirm [Iran's] claim that the road to Jerusalem passes through Idlib, Aleppo and Homs, [thus] prompting [Iran] to perpetrate more crimes and killings.

"Let's reverse the picture and imagine that the commanders of the Syrian revolution decided to normalize their relations with Israel, God forbid, so as to receive military and financial aid in order to fight the Assad regime. [What if we decided that] we do not intervene in other countries, such as Palestine, and [therefore] don't care what the Israeli occupation is doing there?… How would our brothers in Palestine, or the families of the [Palestinians] who have been martyred or expelled, react to this? Would they condemn our actions, protest against us and be hostile towards us, or would they welcome our actions over the dead bodies of their victims?

"Finally, let me say that, throughout their  history, Iran, the Assad regime, Hizbullah and the Iranian militias have brought [us] nothing but destruction, killing, expulsion, poverty and attempts at demographic engineering. These criminals cannot be expected to bring liberation or liberty. [Receiving] any support from them will have a negative impact on Arab peoples, including on Palestine and Gaza.  These provocative statements by the Hamas leaders, in return for feeble support, which is conditional upon these words of praise for the murderers, will cause [the Palestinians] to lose the support of the Arab peoples, who are oppressed by Iran. We all know that no will or force is greater than the will and force of the peoples – especially of the oppressed peoples who curse Iran and its supporters."[16]

 

[2] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 1, 2021.

[4] Isna.ir, May 11, 16, 2021; palinfo.com, May 15, 2021.

[5] Al-Sharq (Qatar), May 21, 2021. For excerpts from Haniya's statements, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 8866, "Iranian TV Highlights Clip Of Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh Thanking Iran For Providing Hamas With Money, Weapons, And Technical Support," May 21, 2021.

[6] Palinfo.com, May 26, 2021. For excerpts from Sinwar's statements, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 8905, "Hamas Leader In Gaza Yahya Sinwar: We Received Money From Iran In The Last Few Days; We Are In The Process Of Moving Our Headquarters Out Of Residential Areas," June 5, 2021.

[7] Alahednews.com.lb, May 28, 2021.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 22, 2021.

[9] Almarkazia.com, June 18, 2021.

[10] Almayadeen.net, May 20, 2021.

[11] Almayadeen.net, May 20, 2021.

[12] Stepagency-sy.net, May 23, 2021.

[13] Twitter.com/abu_brzan20, May 22, 2021.

[14] Hamas leader Isma'il Haniya described Soleimani in these terms in the eulogy he delivered at his funeral.

[15] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 17, 2021.

[16] Orient-news.net, May 26, 2021.

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