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August 18, 2017 12:41 pm

After Syria Strains, Hamas Is Once Again Eager for Iran’s Embrace, Says Leading Israeli Strategic Analyst

avatar by Ben Cohen

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2012. Photo: File.

A chastened Hamas is eagerly seeking to restore its frayed relations with the Iranian regime, now that the regional balance of power has shifted in Tehran’s favor, a new policy paper from one of Israel’s leading strategic think tanks observed on Thursday.

“During the first week of August 2017, a delegation from the Hamas Political Bureau visited Iran,” IDF Lt. Col. (ret) Jonathan Halevi wrote in an analysis for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “The Islamic movement said the visit meant that the sides were opening a ‘new page’ in their relations.”

The high-level Hamas delegation — which included Salah al-Aruri, a senior Hamas leader and founding commander of the terrorist group’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — met with several of the Iranian regime’s most recognizable figures. These included parliament speaker and declared Holocaust-denier Ali Larijani, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a key architect — with former US Secretary of State John Kerry — of the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Halevi pointed out that the traditionally good relations between Hamas and Iran had been badly strained by the brutal civil war in Syria, and particularly Sunni Muslim Hamas’ previous opposition to the Shia axis composed of Iran, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon, and Shia militias in the broader region. The result has left Hamas with few options in terms of a regional sponsor, Halevi argued.

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“The Iranian regime is telling the Hamas leadership in no uncertain terms that the Islamic movement must make a ‘correct’ strategic decision, consistent with the changing balance of power in the Middle East, and align with Iran, which has become a regional superpower,” Halevi said. “The fact that Iran is waging a campaign against Sunni Muslim forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern countries does not — Hamas implied — preclude aligning with it.”

Halevi said that by now “joining the Iranian axis, Hamas reveals its leadership’s order of priority now that (senior political leader) Ismail Haniyeh is at the helm.”

Since declaring its support for Assad’s overthrow in 2012, Hamas has been forced to move much of its operation from the Syrian capital Damascus to Turkey — whose authoritarian leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, shares the Palestinian organization’s Muslim Brotherhood ideology. But Erdogan, whose most immediate worry is the impact Kurdish separatism in Syria could have on Turkey, is also wooing Tehran. On Wednesday, Erdogan met in Ankara with Iran’s military chief General Mohammad Baqeri, in talks his spokesman said would “boost” military ties between the two neighbors. Gen. Baqeri later reported that Erdogan had promised to visit Tehran “in the near future.”

Against this background, Iranian leaders have stepped up demonstrations of their military prowess. On Thursday, Brig Gen. Amir Hatami, slated to be Iran’s new defense minister, pledged to enhance Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.

“In the next four years, apart from enhancing combat and defense capabilities, we will devote a special effort to boost missile and ballistic power, strategic air power as well as strategic maritime power, and increase rapid reaction forces,” Hatami said at a press conference. “Iran has achieved defense deterrence power and the enemies acknowledge Iran’s high defense power in the region and the world.”

Hatami’s comments came as Israeli media outlets reported on new satellite images suggesting that Iran is building an advanced missile factory in Lebanon. The plant is located near the coastal town of Banias in northern Syria, and appears to be close to completion.

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