Has Iran cut off Hamas? Is Hamas turning to Saudi Arabia?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Newsweek is reporting that Iran has cut off funding to Hamas in Gaza, citing Israeli journalism and Hamas sources.

Iran’s relationship with the Hamas party-militia in the Gaza Strip has been an roller-coaster ride in the past three years.

The youth revolutions of 2011 created hard choices for Hamas. As the Syrian protests devolved into civil war between a Shiite-dominated, secular Baathist regime and a mostly Sunni Arab rebellion in which the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood played a prominent role, Hamas’ relations with Damascus were strained. The organization’s natural allies were the Muslim fundamentalists among the Syrian rebels, but it had long depended in part on Syrian government support. (Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is autonomous and has no reporting line to the Egyptian branch).

Likewise, Iran’s backing for Hamas was an embarrassment as of 2012 because it was also supporting the al-Assad regime.

When Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in summer of 2012, Hamas switched to seeking patronage and support from Morsi, and is alleged to have abandoned Iran. Aligning with Egyptian and Syrian like-minded Muslim Brothers made for ideological consistency.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood and sees it as a sneaky authoritarian cult with radical ambitions. For Hamas to hook up with it was intolerable to the Saudis.

But then in summer of 2013, disaster struck for the fundamentalists. Morsi was overthrown. Hamas had to go back on bended knee to Tehran for patronage, even though Iran was backing the enemies of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian regime.

After the US concluded a deal with Iran over the latter’s uranium enrichment program a month ago, a new realignment seemed to take place. The Saudis redoubled their attempt to overthrow the Houthis in Yemen, whom they see as Iran-backed (Iran probably has sent them a couple of million dollars, but the Houthis are mostly indigenous Yemenis.)

Two weeks ago, Khalid Mashaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, was summoned to Riyadh. It had been years since Hamas was allowed into Riyadh, much less into the palace. There were rumors that Saudi Arabia was determined to wean Hamas off its Iran alliance as a way of closing ranks within the Sunni Arab forces.

Ma’an News Agency reported on July 19:

“Hamas leader Dr Salah al-Bardawil confirmed that the crisis between Hamas and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has seen a major relaxation in the wake of the visit of Khalid Mish’al, head of the Hamas Political Bureau, to Riyadh. Al-Bardawil told Ma’an that the visit by a Hamas delegation, led by Khalid Mish’al, to Saudi Arabia was successful and achieved its objectives. It is considered a major relaxation in relations between Hamas and Riyadh. The Hamas delegation was received by King Salman, custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Nayif, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Salman, and other Saudi officials.

Relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia had been sour for years. This is the first visit of its kind to be made by a Hamas delegation to the Kingdom since 2012. Al-Bardawil said: “When relations are broken and then a meeting is held with the king, this signals a clear shift in the relationship and detente with Saudi Arabia.”

He said that “the delegation, which included Mish’al and Musa Abu-Marzuq, Salih al-Aruri, and Muhammad Nazzal, members of the Political Bureau, had a high-level reception. The visit was fruitful. We felt that there is Saudi willingness to support the Palestinian cause. This cuts off the tongue of Netanyahu, prime minister of the occupation, who claims in his speeches that there is a Saudi-Egyptian-UAE coalition in the region to deprive the Palestinians of Arab support.” He added: “Due to the mixed Arab reality, efforts for the Palestinian cause have been shelved and some major states, which are supposed to lead the Arab nation, have been neutralized. This visit aims at returning the Arab effort to its correct place and supporting Palestine.” He added: “Saudi Arabia is a big country and has resources and political influence, which qualify it to be a large supporter of the Palestinian cause on the political, moral, and material levels.”

He said that the Saudi detente means giving freedom to popular Saudi establishments to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip. He confirmed that Saudi Arabia released a number of Hamas personalities during the visit. They had been detained for several months “in the wake of a misunderstanding” in Saudi Arabia. They are estimated to be four persons.

He said that Saudi Arabia would play a role in supporting reconciliation through putting pressure on the Palestinian parties “to become softer on the question of Palestinian partnership in the other part of the homeland. This will certainly help resolve the problem of civil servants and their salaries.”

BBC Monitoring translated on July 23,

“In privately-owned pro-Fatah Al-Quds newspaper, Rasim Ubaydat commented on a recent visit by Khalid Mish’al of Hamas to Riyadh, by saying that Hamas, the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, preferred the Saudi axis in the region to that of Tehran. “Hamas ended the argument within it by finally remaining in the Saudi-Qatari-Turkish- Muslim Brotherhood axis. It had to finally diverge from the Tehran-Damascus-southern Suburb in Beirut [reference to Hizballah]. One of the main objective of its delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia that was headed by its politburo chief Khalid Mish’al was to prevent a new return to the Iranian axis,” he said.

In another Palestinian paper, in Hamas-run Gaza-based Filastin newspaper, Abdallah al-Aqqad pointed out that the visit could also be a prelude to Saudi efforts to end a rift between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, ensuring that Riyadh is a main player in the region. “Saudi Arabia is making efforts to end the split. It might thus soon send an invitation to President Mahmud Abbas [to come to Riyadh],” he said.

An Arabic newspaper, al-Watan, has translated a story from Maariv in the Israeli press. It alleges that Saudi Arabia is desperate to create a Sunni bloc to counter the Shiite one Iran had generally picked up.

Is Saudi Arabia on the verge of picking up Hamas as a client? It is entirely possible.

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Related video:

Wochit News: Hamas Claims Leader and Saudi King Meet in Mecca

24 Responses

  1. So the so-called “royal family” that rules the Wahhabi Muslim Kingdom sees the Muslim Brotherhood as authoritarian and radical. Seems a bit ironic.

  2. This is certainly confusing to me. I thought that alliances were along Sunni-Shiite lines, with Iran supporting Assad, the Houthis (and apparently Hizbullah (sp?) ), because of Shiite allegiances. So now Saudi Arabia will support Hamas after Iran stops support? So why did Iran ever support Hamas in the first place?

    • The whole resistance against Israel thing. Iran had already a natural interest in supporting Shia Hezbollah’s resistance, and wanted further to champion and take the lead as revolutionary religious guardians in the region. So they extended their support from Southern Lebanon. There’s nothing bigger than the Palestinian cause next door, which they latched on to via brotherly non-sectarian (it wasn’t politically as bad as it is today) Muslim ties, at the time, with Sunni Hamas, who both believed in armed struggle.

    • While there are Sunni-Shia cleavages, in addition there are national power rivalries intertwining with this. Iran supported both Hezbollah and Hamas because of their opposition to Israel, but then the Syrian civil war muddied the waters, especially when Hezbollah and Hamas fighters went to opposite sides. On top of that you have both Saudi Arabia and Iran seeking to be the dominant power in the Gulf. It’s a wonderful mess and politics like nowhaere else.

  3. Vow. Support for Palestine was supposed to be bedrock of Arab politics. According to Bardawi SA is willing to support the Palestinian cause? Israeli-SA-UAE-Egypt axis he refers to is real. Palestine has been thrown under the bus for a quite a while now. It was always a catch phrase to turn away Arab masses from challenging autocracy. It is not Iran that these guys are afraid of: their foes are modernity and good governance

  4. The Muslim Brotherhood was the entity that initially rose up against the Baathists in Syria in 1982 at Hama and whose adherents are prevalent in the current Free Syrian Army – and was the forerunner in Gaza of Hamas.

    Iran had however long been a financial backer of Palestinian Islamic Jihad – who is based on the Iranian political model of Shia Islam. A U.S. federal court held the Iranian government responsible in a wrongful death case when an American was killed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a terror operation – the judge alluded to proof that the Iranian government publicly disclosed funding in their national budget for terror activities to that group.

    Hamas has closely worked with Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the past and there has been no signal from Tehran that it will completely abandon Gazan militants there – especially since it provides a base for paramilitary activity against Israel. Further, the Baathist regime in Damascus could conceivably collapse within the next year.

  5. According to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Pan-Arab daily, the Saudi officials vowed to funnel billions of dollars into the impoverished Gaza Strip—the most densely populated places on earth— only if Hamas militants capitulate and sit at the negotiating table and abjure the sordid wishes of destroying the State of Israel. In the meantime, unverified reports from the Saudi royal court suggest a probable Saudi proposal to Mr. Meshaal to send a unit of Hamas’ well-trained commandos to southern Yemeni city of Aden to fight with Yemeni Army and revolutionary forces. link to awdnews.com The Saudis will pay anyone to stay in power, they will throw anyone who does not support them under the bus. If Hamas abandons the ‘Arc of resistance’ the Palestinian cause will be lost.

    • I have read some experts on military affairs say that the Saudi army is a horrible, nepotistic, incompetent shambles — that the Saudi princes have spent all their military money on fancy planes and technologies and machinery but not on the unglamorous fields of basic infantry combat, and so must rely on hired guns, essentially, do tackle any hard ground fighting like they’re finding is necessary to get their way in Yemen.

  6. Salman is a gift that keeps on giving. Not unlike his amateurish involvement in Yemen, this will turn out to be another disaster, which should make all decent people very happy.

  7. Will be interesting to see how Saudi Arabia and others will alter the policies and opinions of Western states on this issue. A question of how, not if. They will undoubtedly start marketing this policy and expect western support for it.

    There is also the question of whether Iran will shift some support to the PFLP (the PFLP actually supports a considerable amount of their foreign policy) or simply discontinue aid to Gaza factions. They rejected IJ’s neutrality toward the coalition’s intervention in Yemen. Yemen is too important for Iran to let slide.

  8. There is a constant back and forth flow of Arab and Iranian politics…it is a mirage wrapped up in mystery…and always changing…the only constant is that no body cares what happens to the Palestinians …

  9. There is nothing more Byzantine than Middle East politics. You really need a program and a scorecard to keep track of all the shifting alliances.

  10. It seems for a long time like the Saudis and Israelis were like secret lovers all while Iran was the force behind Palestinian resistance. Seems like many Sunni dominated countries in the region had a similar relationships with Israel. Further seems like that dynamic is changing.

    • Reconsider loyalties in terms of capitalism and not ethnic and religious loyalty, and it makes more sense. Saudi Arabia committed itself to turning its oil into US $, which trapped it in US/Wall Street investments. Israel has moved further and further to the right. Both countries have acted to crush leftism in the Middle East. The former Arab socialist states have all sold out or been overthrown, and their new leaders want Saudi and US/Israeli money.

      And the people who are left in the lurch? Arabs without money. The proletariat of the Middle East. They have the misfortune that like in Orwell’s 1984, their oppressors pretend to be sovereign states engaged in a permanent war with each other as an excuse for their tyranny.

  11. Dear Cole, only some idiot will believe Newsweek’s ‘smoking gun’ story. The magazine has always part of Israel Hasbara Committee.

    First of all, Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad resistance groups don’t receive funds from Iranian government but Iranian charities supervised by Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei’s office.

    Second, nearly one million Iranian attending the International al-Quds Day last month; shouting ‘Death to Israel’. The main event in Tehran was attended by Sheikh Rouhani and some of his ministers.

    link to rehmat1.com

    • I presume most of us have such roots; I’d be very proud if this were proven.

      Am not a consultant to the CIA, though would be happy if they’d listen to me.

  12. Untrue, Dr. Cole has roots in Mars and little green men. Isn’t it amazing that one is either accused of being an anti-semite or a crypto-Zionist, depending on the issue?

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