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Losing Ground in Arab World, Hamas Seeking Iranian Support and New Front Against Israel

Haaretz reported Wednesday that Hamas announced plans to establish military units to fight Israel from southern Lebanon, illustrating renewed cooperation and improving ties between Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. This development also signals a Hamas attempt to open a new front against Israel. Hamas’s effort to repair ties with Iran is a function of its growing isolation within the Arab world.

Senior Hamas leader Dr. Mahmoud Zahar called on Syria and Lebanon to permit Hamas to establish military units loyal to Hamas in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon during a meeting on February 4, according to a Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) report on Tuesday.

MEMRI indicated that this is the first time Hamas has stated an intention to open another front against Israel. Emad Zaqout, news division chief at Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, followed up on Zahar’s comments, writing that Hamas wants to be able to attack every part of Israel in hopes of putting more pressure on the Jewish state. He also said that Hamas had launched rockets at Israel from Lebanon during the last Gaza war. Zaqout claimed that Mohammed Deif, the chief commander of Hamas’ Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades who many believe to be dead, had allegedly sent a letter to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah asking him for permission to operate against Israel from Lebanon. “Ties were renewed between Hamas and Hezbollah… I believe that Zahar’s statements were made in coordination with the highest levels of Hezbollah,” Zaqout said.

Relations between Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran have been strained over the past few years due to Hamas’ refusal to support the Iranian and Hezbollah-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the Sunni rebels in the Syrian civil war. Hamas was forced to move its headquarters in Damascus to Doha, Qatar as a result of this dispute three years ago.

The last Gaza war, also known as Operation Protective Edge, contributed to improved ties between Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s official website reported that during the Gaza war, Nasrallah praised Hamas fighters and said he “stands next to the Palestinian resistance.” A former member of the Iranian Shura Council and close associate of the Iranian regime said that “the Gaza war will have a major role in warming the relations between Hamas and Hezbollah, including providing assistance and support in all required fields.” In testimony (.pdf) presented at a recent congressional hearing, Tony Badran, Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained Hamas’ approach to Iran as a function of last summer’s war with Israel:

In many respects, that war was Hamas’ way of reorienting its ship back to Iran…Hamas knows that neither Turkey nor Qatar, nobody else can actually replace Tehran as a source of firepower for them so…they are going to maintain that relationship.

It was reported earlier this week that Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Turkey shortly after Operation Protective Edge, and the IRGC recently bragged that Iran has provided Palestinian terror groups with both short- and mid-range missile technology. Khaled Mashaal is scheduled to visit Iran next month to try to strengthen ties with Tehran.

Hamas’ break with Egypt following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated regime in 2013, which deprived Hamas of significant political support and has contributed to the terrorist group’s desire to improve ties with Iran. Hamas was significantly weakened by the last Gaza war and by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown on smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza. Earlier this month, an Egyptian court recently branded Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades a terrorist organization. The recent rapprochement between Egypt and Qatar has further isolated Hamas and forced the terror group to relocate its headquarters once again, this time to Turkey.

[Photo: Wall Street Journal / YouTube]