Hamas’ Return to Resistance Camp Complicated
After the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas suddenly found itself isolated, its leadership scattered across the region. Any attempt to return to the resistance camp, however, will likely meet with failure.
It’s unlikely that we will see any kind of reconciliation between Hamas and its former allies of the so-called resistance axis, particularly Iran and Syria. President Bashar al-Assad’s many public statements confirm this.
The very idea of Hamas leaving Syria in 2011 was not even on the table before the events in Egypt last June and July that saw the toppling of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood was on the rise in a number of countries, leading the Palestinian movement to believe that the whole region was about to open before them.
Iran and Hezbollah were taken aback by reports from the Syrian regime that Hamas members were involved in fighting alongside the opposition. And the worst of it was that they were using the weapons and fighting methods they gained from their former allies.
When Morsi was toppled and the Brotherhood suppressed, the fortunes of Hamas turned for the worse, as the tunnels of Rafah were destroyed and its members were being targeted by both the Syrian and Egyptian regimes. This put the resistance camp before two choices: either leave Hamas to its fate, something that would above all benefit the Israeli enemy, or find a way to preserve this powerful resistance movement.
Both sides had a chance to test the waters when Hamas leader Mohammed Nasr visited Tehran, supposedly to pay respects to the Revolutionary Guards’ commander, Qassem Sulemani, after his mother passed away. Nasr expressed the Palestinian movement’s interest in reestablishing ties with Iran, something that the latter welcomed, but with conditions.
Although there are those in Iran who are reluctant to give Hamas a second chance, Damascus is demanding a heavy price for any reconciliation, such as calling for the removal of Khaled Meshaal from the party’s leadership, and insisting – as Assad did in a recent interview – that it must choose between being a resistance movement or a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many in the Syrian capital are convinced that this change of heart on the part of Hamas has more to do with the difficult situation they find themselves in today rather than any realization that they have committed serious mistakes, in which case the movement could very well switch positions again, if circumstances in the region turn in its favor.
Recent expressions of regret from Hamas officials – for example, when a senior member recently said that Meshaal had raised the Syrian opposition flag “by mistake” during his visit to Gaza at the end of 2012 – appear to be an attempt, however modest, at fulfilling some of the conditions the resistance axis has placed on the Palestinian movement’s return.
It is true that there are those within Hamas whose main concerns are limited to their liberation struggle and blame Meshaal for implicating the movement in other countries’ disputes. This has led the politburo leader to offer his resignation over the past few weeks, if it would solve the problem. However, the dominant current in the party opposes such a step, fearing that no matter what the movement does, it will never regain the position it once had in the resistance axis.
Hamas Politburo on the Road Again
Since Hamas decided to move its politburo from Syria to Qatar, its president Khaled Meshaal has been feeling like a prisoner, isolated from political developments in Palestine. The search for a new host country has begun, with Sudan as the most likely destination for the Islamist resistance movement.
Head of Hamas’ politburo in exile Khaled Meshaal cannot help but feel like a prisoner in his new headquarters in Qatar. But the local authorities who have surrounded the Palestinian leader with heavy security and restricted his movement say that the measures are for his own good, due to threats to his personal security.
Yet some other politburo members who have accompanied Meshaal to the Gulf emirate are complaining that the security measures are inadequate, prompting them to revive the idea of relocating to a place like Lebanon, Iran, or Sudan. Hamas sources say that Meshaal has expressed his willingness to consider another location that is better suited for the politburo’s activities.
From the outset, many in Hamas’ leadership were strongly opposed to the idea of relocating the politburo from Damascus to Doha, particularly as it represented a slap in the face to the movement’s former allies in the axis of resistance. Close observers point out that there was hardly a consensus within the top leadership on taking such a step, and that the decision was made by a minority who happened to be present at the meeting.
Most prominent among those who opposed the move were the Gaza cadre who know well the level of support and assistance Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria have provided the movement over the years. Inside sources reveal that tremendous pressure has been exerted on the Hamas leadership to distance itself from Hezbollah and to publicly denounce its intervention in Syria, which some in the Palestinian resistance have reluctantly obliged.
Qassam Brigades Object
Hamas’ military wing, known as Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, put up the most resistance to their party’s new realignment in the region. They know first-hand the amount of sacrifice and commitment Hezbollah in particular has shown to the Palestinian resistance. To this day, Qassam commanders continue to visit Beirut on their way to Iran, spending several days as guests of their counterparts in the Lebanese resistance.
For its part, Hezbollah seems reluctant to hold Hamas responsible for the actions of a few individuals, insisting that the decision by some in the movement to join the fight against the Syrian regime was a personal one, and not one officially taken by the leadership. Iran, too, has shown its willingness to mend fences with Hamas, particularly after Israel’s assault on Gaza in March 2012, which prompted Tehran to quickly replenish Qassam’s military supplies.
In Search of a Home
Before the toppling of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, Hamas and the Jordanian government had agreed to move the politburo to Amman. However, with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Jordanian king had a change of heart, believing that this is the beginning of the collapse of the Brotherhood in the region as whole.
Other options that are geographically close to Palestine have been ruled out for various reasons. Egypt, for example, is currently out of the question given Cairo’s accusations that Hamas is meddling in the country’s internal affairs to lend support to the Muslim Brotherhood. A return to Syria is equally impossible, although some have suggested that Damascus is open to the idea but without Meshaal.
This leaves Khartoum as the best option for the time being. Hamas is not a stranger to Sudan, where the movement regularly gathers to hold politburo elections and conduct other party business, not to mention that Iran has established several weapons factories for Hamas in the country.