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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

New Tensions between Egypt and Hamas

Filed under: Egypt, Hamas

New Tensions between Egypt and Hamas
Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh eulogizes Soleimani in Tehran on January 6, 2020. (Iran press)
  • New tensions between Egypt and Hamas have arisen, following a visit to Tehran by a Hamas delegation led by Ismail Haniyeh.
  • The Egyptians are not interested in severing ties with Hamas, but they are signaling their dissatisfaction with Hamas renewing ties to the Ayatollah regime.

In recent days, signs of new tensions between Egypt with Hamas in the Gaza Strip have intensified in light of the recent assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the United States.

This new rift was created following a surprise move by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who decided to take a senior Hamas delegation to Tehran to attend Qasem Soleimani’s funeral. He met and comforted the Iranian leadership and Soleimani’s family.

Qasem Soleimani’s assassination caught Ismail Haniyeh during his visit to Qatar. Haniyeh left the Gaza Strip two weeks ago with special permission from Egyptian authorities. The Egyptian authorities had prevented him from going abroad for the past three years in an attempt to prevent Iranian and Turkish influence that would endanger Egypt’s efforts to calm the Gaza Strip and move towards national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Egyptian authorities had put conditions on Ismail Haniyeh before his trip, and he pledged to comply. They included a ban on travel to Iran or Lebanon and meetings with Iranian and senior Hizbullah officials. Haniyeh was also not permitted to participate in the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, which was attended by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This conference is viewed as a counter to moderate Islamic countries and a challenge to Saudi Arabia as the head of the Sunni world.

Ismail Haniyeh blatantly broke his pledge to Egypt when he traveled to Tehran as the head of a Hamas delegation. He further violated the Egyptian terms when he praised Qasem Soleimani and called him “the Martyr of Jerusalem.” He delivered a eulogy at Soleimani’s funeral and even kissed Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Esmail Ghaani, Haniyeh, and Saleh al-Aruri
Al-Quds Force commander, General Esmail Ghaani (center in uniform). Haniyeh is to the left, and Saleh al-Aruri, Hamas’ “military commander on the West Bank,” is on the right. ( website)

Egypt is following with concern these Hamas delegation meetings in Tehran. Haniyeh and his delegation met with Soleimani’s successor, General Esmail Ghaani, to coordinate with him the next moves in the Gaza Strip and discuss Iran’s assistance to Hamas. Egypt is worried that Iran is now trying to influence the Hamas movement to become more radical to avenge the death of Qasem Soleimani. Extremist actions would threaten the continuation of the Hamas’ process of reconciliation with Israel, which could downplay all the efforts of Egypt, currently serving as the mediator between Israel and Hamas.

An Egyptian official told the Dar al-Hayat newspaper on January 6, 2020, that Ismail Haniyeh had breached his promises to Egypt, and the country’s leadership was unhappy about it.

This breach of promise to Egypt by Ismail Haniyeh is considered damaging to Egypt’s national dignity and security interests. Egypt has a long memory and low esteem for Hamas’ credibility, and Egypt will not easily give up on its dignity or its interests.

Ismail Haniyeh and Ziyad al-Nakhala
At Soleimani’s funeral. In the yellow circle, standing behind Iran’s top leadership, are Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and Ziyad al-Nakhala, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In the Gaza Strip, there is a feeling that Egypt will settle accounts with Hamas, especially with Ismail Haniyeh, when he wants to return to the Gaza Strip. It is still unclear when Haniyeh will return from his overseas visits, and it is quite possible that Haniyeh will extend his stay abroad in order to buy time and wait until Egypt’s rage passes and softens.

Meanwhile, disturbing things are happening in Gaza. According to sources in the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security delegation canceled a visit to the Gaza Strip last week, in which they were to discuss with Hamas leaders the implementation of calming relations with Israel.

In another move, Egypt raised the price of cooking gas that Egypt provides the Gaza Strip. This caused great anger in the Gaza Strip, and Gaza gas importers have decided to stop importing it from Egypt.

Furthermore, the Egyptian media, which for a long time had been restrained from bad-mouthing Hamas, so as not to damage the good atmosphere between the two sides, renewed its attacks on Hamas’ relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist organization in Egypt.

The Egyptian media’s attack this time dealt with Khaled Mashaal, a senior official of Hamas, who plans to run for head of the movement in internal elections.

Egyptian journalist Amani al-Khayat revealed on January 11, 2020, in her “News Extra” segment that Khaled Mashaal asked the Muslim Brotherhood senior official Khairat el-Shater, during the reign of President Mohamed Morsi, the following three things:

  • Establishing a Hamas representative office in Cairo that will be unconnected to the PA, just like the Hamas offices in Doha and Istanbul.
  • Establishing a bank in Egypt that Hamas will partner together with a large Arab bank.
  • Finding a way to get rid of senior members of the military wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam and its leader Mohammed Deif and in order to integrate his people into the organization.

Sources in the Gaza Strip believe that Egyptian intelligence is behind this revelation, which is now trying to create a dispute between Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh ahead of Hamas’ internal elections.

The two are contesting for Hamas leadership, and there is a great rivalry between them.

Egypt is not interested in severing ties with Hamas leadership because of its national security interests. Egypt is interested in achieving a lull in tensions in Gaza so as not to damage national security in Egypt and prevent Hamas from renewing its relationship with ISIS’ branch in northern Sinai. However, Egypt apparently wants to teach Ismail Haniyeh a lesson and restore its national dignity. Therefore, more Egyptian measures should be expected to signal Egypt’s displeasure with Hamas’ renewed ties with Iran.