Hamas, PIJ Vie for Iranian Support

The breakup between Hamas and Iran can be traced back to the civil war tearing apart Syria.

hamas-iranPalestinians in the occupied territories may have another feud beginning to divide them, but this time it’s not the Hamas and Fatah rivalry. A New York Times headline read “In Gaza, Iran Finds an Ally More Agreeable than Hamas.

And that more agreeable ally is Palestinian Islamic Jihad – Hamas’ longtime rival in the Gaza Strip. The intensification in that conflict is exacerbating divisions within already existing Palestinian divisions.

The breakup between Hamas and Iran can be traced back to the civil war tearing apart Syria. When Hamas refused to back Syrian President Bashar Al-Asaad’s regime and supported the rebels attempting to overthrow him, Tehran responded by cutting off the purse strings to their erstwhile proxy.

Facing the loss of their primary financier, Hamas found different patrons in Turkey, Egypt and Qatar. It is important to note, however, that there are divisions within Hamas over the decision to cut ties with Iran.

The military wing never completely ended their courtship with Iran because they provided them with missiles capable of striking Israel. Thus, the Qassam Brigades worked hard to maintain the weakening relationship and keep open the flow of weapons to Gaza from Iran.

The Iranian regime has been willing to overlook the Sunni-Shia divide when it comes to Israel. Any Palestinian organization that expresses abhorrence for the Jewish State is a strong candidate for funding and support from Iran. Losing Hamas however meant that Iran’s influence in the Palestinian territories diminished. Enter Palestinian Islamic Jihad as the new proxy of Iran in the Palestinian territories and among Sunni Arabs.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad takes a much harsher stance and policy on Israel than Hamas. 

It categorically opposes any form of negotiation or engagement with the Israelis. PIJ not only refuses to recognize Israel and calls for the creation of a Palestinian state in all of historical Palestine, but it also refuses to participate in any form of elections administered by the Palestinian Authority.

They view the leadership of the Palestinians as inherently corrupt and as illegitimate on the grounds that they have negotiated with the occupying power. Their ideology and practice of “resistance” serve Iran’s interests well. They have expressed a commitment to the Syria-Iran axis. This newfound funding and support is slowly increasing their popularity among people of Gaza, turning them into a potentially real threat to Hamas.

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There are some in the ranks of Hamas leadership who were never completely comfortable with the break with Tehran and are making a serious attempt to revive the relationship. Reports suggest that Hamas leadership has been courting Iranian leaders in order to turn the funding switch back on.

It’s no secret that the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown by the Egyptian military on the infamous Gaza smuggling tunnels network administered by Hamas has created an economic and governance crisis in Gaza. Could renewed Iranian financial commitments be the missing key to the puzzle of Hamas’ survival?

The short answer is most likely not. Iran might be willing to overlook issues regarding their patrons and Syria, but Hamas’ surviving new patrons, Turkey and Qatar, would strongly object, placing their own support in doubt. If Iran and Hamas rekindle their relationship, this could serve as a significantly isolating move for Hamas compounding the recent loss of Morsi in Egypt.

Iran might consider funding both Hamas and PIJ at the same time, if that serves their needs well. 

But would the two Gaza-based groups find this to be an agreeable situation?

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have frequently found themselves at odds, most recently after Hamas policeman shot and killed Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit commander Raed Jundiya. After three days of fighting negotiations ended the feud, but this does not mean tensions ended.

In addition, Islamic Jihad routinely defies Hamas authority by launching unauthorized rockets attacks into Israel without considering Hamas strategic decisions. A serious divide and rivalry exists between the factions and competing for aid from Iran may seriously exacerbate the already deepening rift.

The 1.7 million residents of Gaza face an unprecedented degree of impoverishment that seems to worsen each day. The humanitarian crisis caused by the Egyptian-Israeli blockade is only deepening as the Egyptian military begins its crackdown on Gaza. It is the people of Gaza and the Palestinian cause who would suffer from ever greater divides between the various organizations vying for control.

Miriam Awadallah is currently pursuing her Master of Public and International Affairs with a specialization in Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Her interests include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader role of Iran in Middle East Politics. You can follow her on Twitter at @Miradallah. Read other articles by Miriam.