Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a January 2, 2022 interview on Al-Jazeera Network (Qatar) that Hamas is not engaged in a proxy war with Israel on behalf of Iran. Rather, he said that Hamas is independent and makes its own decisions, and that Iran supports Hamas for religious reasons and because it helps weaken their shared enemy, Israel. Haniyeh said that the issue of Palestine should be kept out of any of the sectarian conflicts that have plagued the region, and he emphasized that Hamas' relationship with Iran has been stable for 30 years and since the days of Khaled Mashal’s leadership of Hamas. He also said that he does not manage Hamas' relationship with Iran, but that it is managed from abroad by Hamas’ international leadership.
Ismail Haniyeh: "There was a strategic exposure of the [Zionist] entity. The Iron Dome, whose praises they sing, can no longer protect Zionist society from the rockets of the resistance.
"We do not wage anybody's proxy war, and we were not asked to do this. The brothers in Iran do not ask Hamas and the Palestinian resistance to fight a war on their behalf. I am being honest about this. Nobody asked..."
Interviewer: "And what if they did?"
Haniyeh: "Look, we are ready to wage a war if it is for the sake of Palestine. Where there are battlefields for the sake of Palestine and against the Zionist enemy, we are basically there. We are waging our resistance on a daily basis. Are we supposed to fight a proxy war? Nobody is asking us to do this and our decisions are independent."
Interviewer: "Since we have started talking about Iran, let me ask you this. Why does Iran give you all this support? In politics, nothing is for free. You are the head of Hamas' political bureau. Why do you think Iran helps Hamas so much? In return for what?"
Haniyeh: "There are a number of issues here. First of all, Iran espouses a religious position that has to do with Palestine and Jerusalem. This position is clear. It has to do with the religious aspect. This was determined in the days of Khomeini, when International Quds Day was declared. So there is a religious aspect to this issue.
"Second, the Israeli army is a common enemy. Iran also sees Israel, or the Zionist entity, as an enemy. Supporting the resistance movements that weaken this enemy and keep it busy..."
Interviewer: "It serves Iran's interests..."
Haniyeh: "...So it cannot engage in direct confrontation with Iran. So this is definitely an [Iranian] interest with a military aspect. It weakens this common enemy.
"The third point is that every country has political interests. Iran wants to be seen by the Islamic world as a country that supports the Palestinian resistance and cause. Also, Iran wants to show that it does not only support Shi'ite [groups] like Hizbullah, but also supports Hamas, which is a Sunni movement. This is part of the balance between the doctrinal denominations..."
Interviewer: "Iran also tried to establish Shi'ite movements in Gaza, and you confronted them."
Haniyeh: "Honestly, Iran did not try this. There was no decision to form Shi'ite groups [in Gaza]. There were a number of people who, for one reason or another, took this path, but we took care of this."
Interviewer: "They were not supported by Iran?"
Haniyeh: "We had no proof that [Iran] asked anyone to become Shi'ite. Some people followed a specific ruling in that direction, and we dealt with them. As a Sunni movement that belongs to the Sunni nation, we have relations with all the different sects in this nation, but we believe that Palestine and the Palestinian people who face the nation's primary enemy, should be kept out of any sectarian or marginal war.
"The Palestinian people need to remain as they are, and to confront the enemy and the occupation, without being hurled into any of the entanglements that plague the region. We see how much blood has been shed in many [Arab] capitals by the sectarian conflict. We make sure that Palestine is spared all this.
"Our relationship with Iran is nothing new. It has existed for 30 years, since the days when Khaled Mashal [was the leader of Hamas], and it has continued under my leadership, and with the different regional leaders in Gaza, the West Bank, and abroad. This is a relationship that has existed for more than thirty years. We have had a representative in Iran since around 1990, and he is still there.
"The relationship with Iran is stable and public, and it has been managed by our brothers [in Hamas' leadership] abroad. We in Gaza were not in direct contact with Iran or others, as part of Hamas' political relations, which were managed by our brothers abroad.
"Even after the events of the Arab Spring and our departure from Syria, the restoration of the warmth and vitality to our relations with Iran was accomplished towards the end of brother Khaled Mashal's term, and before the reins were passed on to me."
Interviewer: "So you are not responsible for this."
Haniyeh: "I am not responsible for this and Gaza is not responsible for this. It is the fruit of our understanding of the balance of power in the region, and the need to manage the conflict.
"We have a strategic relationship with Iran, but Iran has never asked us for anything, even with regard to Syria. As I have said, Hamas sided with the Syrian people, but did not engage in war with the Syrian regime. Hamas decided to leave [Syria]. It should be noted that this was upsetting to our brothers in Iran and Hizbullah, who are our strategic allies, but in the end, Hamas made a decision of its own free will and left Syria."