News / Middle East

Hamas Moves to Improve Ties With Iran

FILE - Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas Politburo Sept .28, 2009.
FILE - Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas Politburo Sept .28, 2009.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas is showing signs of strain.  Hamas which has dominated the Gaza Strip since it defeated its rival, Fatah in a bitter 2007 conflict, has suffered a series of setbacks recently that have left the Islamist group isolated and increasingly ostracized in a region where until recently it was celebrated and seemed on the ascendency.

In a bid to revive his group’s flagging finances and political profile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is likely to visit Iran shortly to patch-up damaged ties with Tehran, a onetime key patron.  Those ties were severely strained after Meshaal broke ties with long-time patron Bashar al-Assad of Syria and moved Hamas headquarters to Qatar.
 
But now with Gaza isolated by Egypt’s military-dominated government and a new less supportive ruler in Qatar there are daily reports that the cash-strapped Palestinian resistance group is looking to shift its headquarters from an increasingly unfriendly Qatar and is casting around for an alternative host country in the Middle East.

U.S. analyst Jonathan Schanzer believes that Hamas has no choice but to re-establish with Iran close links upset by the different positions Iran and Hamas have taken over Syria’s civil war, with Tehran backing President Bashar al-Assad and the Palestinian group supporting rebels fighting to topple the Syrian leader.

 “If Hamas runs back into the arms of Iran, then Beirut looks increasingly likely to become the new host city for the Hamas leadership,” said Schanzer, a Middle East expert with the Washington DC-based think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Hamas backtracks on Syria

In line with a possible rapprochement with Iran, Meshaal, who was reelected Hamas leader in the spring, has begun to distance Hamas from his previous outspoken support of the Syrian rebellion. In a recent statement he argued that while people “have the right to rise up for their rights”, this must be done through peaceful means.” He called also for an end to “sectarian violence” in Syria between Muslims.

Meshaal’s backtracking has dismayed Syrian rebels, prompting the Army of Islam, an umbrella grouping of hardline Islamist brigades, to warn: “He who performs jihad out of his office should not offer advice to those in the trenches.”

Meshaal has spoken also in support of peace talks, urging “a peaceful solution in Syria that guarantees the freedom and dignity of people.” The Army of Islam and most rebel brigades have rejected U.S.-Russian sponsored peace talks.

Hamas has increasingly become isolated in the Middle East because of Arab Spring developments and the Syrian civil war shattering its established alliances. Hamas support of the Syrian rebels deprived it of funding from Tehran and Damascus, where it headquartered until 2012.

“I believe Hamas is near the point of bankruptcy,” said U.S. expert Schanzer. He estimates Hamas may have lost 60 to 80 percent of its funding.

According to Lebanese political analyst Ali Al-Amin, Hamas will continue to take a “more neutral position on Syria in a bid to facilitate its return to Iran’s embrace.”

Egypt shuts down pipeline to outside world

Additionally, Hamas has suffered financially from the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the first Muslim Brotherhood leader of Egypt. Since his removal from office by the military after massive popular protests, and a subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian army has been closing down hundreds of smugglers’ tunnels from Egypt into Hamas-run Gaza, which has been under a seven-year-old Israeli blockade.

The tunnels have been an economic lifeline for Gaza but the Egyptian army says militant Islamists use them to stage attacks in Sinai. A few tunnels remain open, not enough to make much of a difference for Hamas when it comes to running into Gaza not only weapons but cash. Money is hard to transfer for Hamas using the international banking system because of global money-laundering regulations aimed at preventing funding of designated terrorist groups.

Changes in Qatar

Combined with the funding challenge, the Hamas leader has found a change in Qatar since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani passed the crown this summer to his son, Tamim. The 33-year-old emir has been presiding over shifts not only on the domestic front but when it comes to foreign policy, too, in the name of “rebalancing.”  The new emir has sought to improve relations with Qatar’s Gulf neighbors, particularly with Saudi Arabia, a foe of the Hamas-linked Muslim Brotherhood.

Although both Hamas and Qatar said their relations remain good, Meshaal abruptly this summer stopped being interviewed on Al Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari royal family. He has appeared just once in the past three months.

A move to Gaza for Meshaal, who was born in the West Bank village of Silwad, doesn’t seem to be on the cards. As the main diplomatic envoy for Hamas he needs to be able to travel easily. Also, Meshaal has come under increasing criticism from Hamas rivals led by Mahmoud al-Zahar, who blame him for the group’s isolation and are critical of the decision to back the Syrian rebels. “Gaza may not be the best place for him now,” said a Cairo-based European diplomat.

You May Like

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs