Some recent Middle Eastern developments are affecting Hamas’ relations with Iran with Saudi Arabia, while creating possibilities of forging alliances and renewing Hamas’ old coalitions in the region.
These developments are linked to the situation on the Golan Heights and the counterattack by Hizbullah and Syria, which is aimed at forming an additional front against Israel; to the death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz; and to the Shiite (Houthi) rebels’ takeover of Yemen, which – with Yemen regarded as Saudi Arabia’s backyard – signifies Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Relations with Iran
About two months ago a high-ranking Hamas delegation visited Iran. The aim was to restore the two countries’ relations, which had cooled because of Hamas’ stance toward the civil war in Syria.
Although Iran has continued to support Hamas and funnel weapons to Gaza, the relations have suffered particularly on the political level.
There appears to be a controversy in Iran over relations with Hamas. Some favor continuing these relations unconditionally so as to rehabilitate the “resistance axis” (Hamas-Syria-Hizbullah); others seek to derail the relations and particularly the connection between Khaled Mashal, chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau, and the Iranian leadership.
One major sign of this controversy in Iran is that Mashal’s planned visit to Tehran, which was supposed to occur quite some time ago and to constitute the apex of restored Hamas-Tehran relations, has already been long delayed, with no date yet determined for it.
During the past two weeks an anti-Mashal campaign has begun in Hizbullah-linked media. The aim is to get him to change his position on the Syrian civil war.
Some in Iran, and in its media, claim that there is a problem of protocol regarding the meeting between Mashal and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which is supposed to resolve the dispute between the sides. Some in Hamas, however, say that Mashal insists on meeting with Iran’s top leadership echelon in keeping with his own status.
Hussein Riwan, an Iranian political commentator, told the Hamas mouthpiece Al-Risala on February 11 that “there is no veto on a meeting between Khaled Mashal and Ali Khamenei, but the leadership in Tehran has a special stance toward Khaled Mashal and the Hamas leadership regarding the crisis in Syria.”
Hamas sources explain that it is the organization’s Shura (Advisory) Council that will make the decisions on the Syrian issue and not Mashal personally.
The two sides appear to have a common interest in restoring their ties. It is claimed in Hamas, however, that the ball is in Iran’s court and they are awaiting its decision on Mashal’s visit to Tehran.
Relations with Saudi Arabia
In March last year, Saudi Arabia put the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent-movement of Hamas, on a list of terrorist organizations for which membership or support is prohibited. The list also included Islamic State, Hizbullah, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Houthis in Yemen.
Over the past two years, in light of the situation in Egypt and the ouster of President Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure whom Saudi Arabia supported, there has been a freeze in Saudi-Hamas relations.
Since the accession of the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdelaziz, Arab media have been reporting on an imminent warming of ties between Saudi Arabia and the “moderate” (compared to the Salafi jihadist movements) Islamic movements, including Hamas.
These reports claim that the new Saudi king’s agenda will concern Syria, Yemen, and Egypt.
According to Hamas sources, King Salman is displeased with his predecessor’s policy over the past two years, which led to the strengthening of Iranian influence in the region, and is likely to change Saudi policy.
These sources believe he will abort the attempts at an Egyptian-Qatari reconciliation and establish a new axis with Qatar, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood – the only axis, he assesses, that can successfully counter the growing influence of Shiite Iran and of the Sunni jihadist organizations.
Improved ties between Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood are expected to redound to Hamas’ benefit, since the Saudis have effective leverage over Egypt and can influence Egyptian President Sisi to change his stance toward Hamas.
It is also believed in Hamas that the new Saudi king will work for a national reconciliation in Egypt between Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
On February 15, Dr. Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, told Al-Risala that “Hamas expects to create a ‘special relationship’ with Saudi Arabia, but this relationship will not come at the expense of an Arab or Islamic country, including Iran.”