March 5, 2009

Hamas and Iran meetings - no surprises here

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas co-founder Mahmud al-Zahar in Tehran

The link between Iran and Hamas has been about a closely guarded secret as the Islamic Republic's support of Hizballah in Lebanon. Virtually all of Hamas's weapons and funding in the last decade has originated in Iran. Hundreds of Hamas fighters have been trained in Iran by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force.

During the 34-day conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas in December 2008 and January 2009, Hamas was badly bloodied but maintained the facade that it was in a strong enough position to sit at the Egyptian-mediated negotiations in Cairo. Those talks went nowhere - neither side was serious.

However, the world wants there to be a settlement, a ceasefire, to the situation in Gaza. Even now, Hamas and Islamic Jihad members launch Qassam and Katyusha (Grad) rockets into southern Israel. Israel responds with air strikes on Palestinian smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border and other targets inside the Gaza Strip. The situation has lapsed into the "no-solution solution." Neither side seems anxious for a truce.

With no progress, the level of the talks in Cairo changed. From the indirect talks between Hamas and Israel, the players changed to U.S envoy George Mitchell and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Palestinian Authority President Mahmud 'Abbas was brought in to be an acceptable interlocutor with Israel, overshadowing Hamas.

Not to be outdone or out-maneuvered, Hamas invited participation from fellow terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. That effectively doomed the talks to failure. The Egyptians, hoping to revive the talks, convened a conference at Sharm al-Shaykh. American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended this conference - Hamas chose not to attend as they felt the deck had been stacked against them in favor of arch-rival Fatah led by 'Abbas.

Iran took advantage of the ongoing inter-Palestinian struggle by hosting a competing conference in Tehran for supporters of Hamas. The meetings not only sought financial support for Hamas, but discussed ways to improve "resistance to Israel." That's code for terrorist operations.

Iran is clearly using Hamas as a tool for its own operations against Israel and its quest to be the major power broker in the region. This is similar to its use of Hizballah in Lebanon against israeli interests in the region. Iran has no inherent interest in advancing the Palestinian cause beyond causing problems for Israel. Iran is the enemy of Israel, as Hamas is the enemy of Israel. This perfectly illustrates the Middle East adage, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

From the Iranian optic, support to Hamas is an easy, low-cost method to attack Israel. It fits their plans to destroy the Jewish state. Let's recognize it for what it is - this is about Israel, not the Palestinians.