In the complex web of Middle Eastern geopolitics, Iran’s support for groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) stands as a crucial and contentious issue. This support is driven by a combination of geostrategic calculations and deeply ingrained ideological beliefs. Tehran’s involvement with these groups aims at expanding regional influence, while ideologically, Iran sees Israel as a threat to Islam and regards it as an extension of the United States, often referring to the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and Israel as the “Little Satan.”
Iran’s backing of Hamas and PIJ involves financial aid, arms, and training, strategically employed to enhance its regional sway. The connection between Tehran and these groups strengthened in 1992 when Israel deported hundreds of Palestinians, including Hamas leaders, to Lebanon. In Lebanon, they underwent military training from Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Financial support from Iran to Hamas reportedly ranged from $20 million to $50 million annually between 1990 and 2000. These ties strengthened further during the 2008 Gaza War, where Iran increased its aid, including advanced rockets, to Hamas.
However, the relationship has not been without its challenges. The onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011 led to a divergence between Tehran and Hamas. Relations further strained in 2015 when Hamas indirectly supported the Saudi-led offensive against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Despite these tensions, a rekindling of ties occurred in August 2017, marked by a meeting between Saleh al Arouri, Hamas’s second-in-command, and senior Iranian officials. Reports suggested that Iran was transferring around $70 million annually to Hamas by August 2018.
While Hamas vehemently denies being an Iranian puppet, acknowledging the group’s independent roots, there is no denying the substantial support it receives from Tehran. The financial aid enables Hamas to acquire weaponry through underground channels, challenging the notion of mere “moral support” from Iran. The dynamics between the two entities often shift, with Iran asserting its leverage over groups like Hamas and Hezbollah while claiming they are indigenous and independent forces. In 2006, when Hamas faced funding cuts from the US and EU, Iran publicly pledged $50 million in aid, showcasing a complex dynamic.
The ideological dimension of Iran’s support for Hamas extends beyond mere geopolitical calculations. While some argue that Iran instrumentalizes the Palestinian cause for political expediency, there is evidence of deep-rooted enmity towards Israel dating back to the pre-revolution era. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the present supreme leader, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, emerged as influential figures during the revolutionary period, with their initial activism revolving around the Palestinian cause. Despite lacking direct borders with Israel and a historical backdrop of tolerance towards the Jewish community, the Palestinian issue continues to hold a central position in the rhetoric of Iran’s revolutionary leadership.
The attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7, referred to as the “Al-Aqsa Storm,” was characterized as a pivotal moment in the region, as stated by Esmaeil Khatib, the Iranian Minister of Intelligence. Iran’s leaders expressed triumphalism, viewing the attack as a strategic victory for their regional allies, forming what they term an “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies. Despite denying direct involvement, Iran’s leaders acknowledged aiding and guidance to Hamas and PIJ, maintaining a strategic ambiguity in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Iranian leaders, including President Ebrahim Raisi and Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri, have navigated a delicate balance between their ideological dedication to the Palestinian cause and pragmatic considerations within the region. Bagheri highlighted the evolution of Palestinian fighters, noting the transition from traditional methods like “stones and fists” to more advanced weaponry such as “missiles and anti-tank weapons.” This observation, while suggestive of Iran’s involvement in enhancing their capabilities, underscores the intricate dynamics at play. Furthermore, Bagheri emphasized Iran’s commitment to supporting these fighters until their rights are secured. The nuanced approach of Iranian officials reflects the challenges and strategic considerations inherent in their engagement with regional conflicts.
Their statements reflect the dilemmas Iran faces in balancing its relationships with friends and foes, emphasizing the independence of their regional allies. While praising the Palestinian fighters’ struggle, they have avoided direct clashes to protect Iran’s interests and security.
The Israel-Hamas conflict has generated a spectrum of viewpoints within the Iranian public and media. In one instance, conservative analyst Hossein Rajaei, contributing to Alef, contended that the Israel issue has become a vulnerability for Western civilization, exposing the inconsistency of its liberal claims. Rajaei criticized Western governments for overlooking Israel’s actions and supporting dictatorships in the Middle East, asserting that no democracy in the region would tolerate Israel. Conversely, dissenting perspectives include expressions of sympathy for Israel and assigning blame to Iran and Hamas for the conflict. Conservative analysts fault Western governments for endorsing Israel, while reformist viewpoints emphasize the destabilizing consequences of the Hamas attack, challenging the perceived stability in the Middle East.
However, Iran vehemently dismissed the 2023 G7 calls to cease its support for Hamas. Nasser Kanani, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, strongly criticized the statement issued by the G7, comprising the United States, Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy, France, and Japan. Kanani asserted that Iran has been actively working to halt the military actions of Israel, referring to it as the “Zionist aggressor regime,” against the vulnerable citizens in Gaza. He expressed disappointment in the G7’s failure to address what he deemed the Zionist regime’s violations of human rights and international law in Gaza, emphasizing that the expectation was for the foreign ministers to fulfill their international responsibilities during the Tokyo meeting.
In the intricate dance of Middle Eastern geopolitics, the symbiotic relationship between Iran and Hamas emerges as a defining factor in the volatile landscape. Beyond the geopolitical calculations and ideological convictions, their support for each other weaves a complex tapestry of strategic alliances and shared goals. Iran’s backing provides Hamas with crucial financial aid, weapons, and training, enabling the group to assert its resistance against Israel. Conversely, Hamas, while fiercely maintaining its independence, acknowledges the substantial support it receives from Tehran.
As the region grapples with the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack, both Iran and Hamas find themselves at the center of a strategic chessboard, where each move is calculated to bolster the other. The historic turning point marked by the “Al-Aqsa Storm” not only showcased the military capabilities of Palestinian factions but also underscored the strength of the Iran-Hamas partnership.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.