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Hamas Under Iranian Pressure to Restore Ties With Syria

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Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Muslim Brotherhood has for decades in Syria – long before the current civil war – been a threat to the Assad regime that keeps the Alawite minority in power. For some uber-Sunnis, including the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Alawites (a branch of Shi’a Islam) are practically Infidels. During the rule of Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad, the MB became a serious threat to the regime, beginning in 1976 when a Sunni uprising, led by the MB, began against the Alawite dictatorship. It soon became a bloody contest between the MB and Assad’s army. The uprising lasted for six years, from 1976 to 1982. The most spectacular attack by the MB during this uprising took place on June 16,1979, at the Aleppo Military Academy, where between 60 and 83 cadets, almost all of them Alawites, were killed and many more wounded. Years of terrorist attacks by the MB followed. The revolt was finally put down by the regime when the Syrian army entered Hama, an MB stronghold, and proceeded to massacre up to 40,000 of its inhabitants, most of them civilians.

During the Syrian civil war, Hamas has been a staunch enemy of the Assad regime – that is, until just now. For Hamas has made a 180-degree turn in its policy toward the hated Assad and his Alawites. It’s a head-spinning example of how Arab politics resembles a constantly shaken-up kaleidoscope of shifting alliances.

The story of Hamas’ attempt to restore its ties to Syria is told here: “Hamas condemns Israeli strikes as it seeks to restore ties with Syria,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2022:

Hamas said on Saturday that its stands with Syria in the face of the “recurring Israeli aggression on Syrian soil.”

Hamas condemned the missile strikes on Damascus International Airport on Friday night, which were reportedly carried out by Israel. Five Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes, Syria’s official news agency Sana reported.

The strikes against Syria are an extension of the Israeli aggression on the entire region,” said Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem.

The strikes by Israel are not “against Syria,” even though Syrian soldiers have at times been hit in these air strikes. The intended targets are Iranian and Hezbollah bases in Syria, or Syrian sites that the Iranians have been using for their own purposes. The airports in Aleppo and Damascus were hit because they are being used by Iranian planes to fly in both weapons, and material for building precision-guided missiles, for ultimate delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is no “Israeli aggression on [sic] the entire region” as Hazem Qassem claims. Israel has not been launching attacks on, inter alia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, or Iraq. It defends itself, rather, from aggression by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and takes defensive action in Syria to prevent the delivery of precision-guided missiles and other weapons by Iran to Hezbollah.

The latest Hamas denunciation of the alleged Israeli strikes on Syria is seen as part of the Islamist movement’s efforts to restore its ties with the Syrian regime.

Relations between Hamas, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime deteriorated shortly after the beginning of the civil war in Syria.

This statement is misleading. Relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Syria were never good; they can hardly be said to have deteriorated. The MB had been subdued, even quiescent, in Syria, after being crushed by the Syrian army In Hama in 1982, but it had never reconciled itself to the rule of Bashar al-Assad, and it was ready to join other Sunni Syrians who rose up in revolt in 2011 to try to overturn the Alawite dictatorship. But the MB kept its distance from those who constituted the pro-democratic forces, instead joining the Islamist groups that opposed Assad.

Hamas leaders, some of whom were based in Syria, refused to side with the Assad regime against the opposition groups, most of which were affiliated with Islamist organizations. In 2012, the Hamas offices in Syria were closed and the leaders of the group moved to Qatar.

Last Thursday [Sept. 15], Hamas issued a statement in which it voiced support for Syria in the face of attempts to “divide and fragment it and keep it away from its effective historical role, especially regarding the Palestinian cause.”

Why, after so many years of opposing the Syrian regime, did Hamas now come out in its support? The reason is simple: Iran. The Iranians are now the major financial backers of Hamas in Gaza, and they have demanded, as the price for their continuing financial support, that Hamas end its opposition to the Syrian regime, and instead reach out to Assad, openly declaring its support for the Alawite dictator.

The statement, seen by some Palestinian political analysts as an apology to the Assad regime, said that “Syria has embraced our Palestinian people and its resistance factions for decades, which requires [the Palestinians] standing with it in light of the brutal aggression to which it is being subjected.”

The “brutal aggression” to which Syria has been subjected during eleven years of civil war comes mainly from the Syrian Arab Army, that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, forced five million Syrians to flee the country, and six million to be internally displaced. 

The statement expressed Hamas’s “appreciation to the leadership and people of the Syrian Arab Republic for standing with the Palestinian people and their just cause.”

In fact, during the last eleven years of civil war, the Syrian regime has been fully occupied with suppressing the revolt and staying in power, and has done very little to support “the Palestinian people and their just cause.” The most important way it has helped the Palestinians is to allow Iran and Hezbollah to set up bases in Syria, where advanced missiles are either brought in from Iran, or manufactured on site, for delivery to Hezbollah. Only in that sense are the Syrians now “standing with [the Palestinian people] and their just cause.”

Hamas looks forward to Syria “regaining its role and position in the Arab and Islamic nations and supports all sincere efforts for the stability, safety, prosperity, and progress of Syria,” the statement added. “We affirm our firm position on the unity of Syria’s land and people. We also affirm our firm strategy and keenness to develop and strengthen our relations with all those who support our cause and our resistance.”

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya was quoted as saying that his group’s leaders have agreed to search for ways to restore their relations with Syria. He did not provide further details, but said that he supports the move.

Palestinian sources revealed that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group had acted as a mediator between Hamas and Syria. On Saturday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah praised Hamas for its decision to restore its relations with Syria.

Even Hezbollah, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah, have been getting into the act to help the reconciliation of Hamas and Syria. That’s what the terror group’s  masters in Tehran have ordered.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper revealed on Saturday that Hamas and Syrian officials held a series of meetings recently to pave the way for “full normalization” between the two sides.

Palestinian political analyst Naji Sharab described the Hamas statement that expressed support for Syria as a “clear and frank apology” to the Assad regime.

“The statement represents a clear retreat by Hamas from its previous position and even from the general stance of the Muslim Brotherhood organization,” Sharab told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds.

Hamas alone is doing the pleading, the apologizing, the hoping for a reconciliation. Assad remains to be convinced; he’s still wary of Hamas as the Palestinian branch, based in Gaza, of his archenemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. But he’s no doubt pleased by this reversal under pressure in Hamas’ policy, and he understands that Teheran is now pulling the strings of its Hamas marionette.

A Palestinian Authority official claimed that the Hamas decision to restore its ties with the Assad regime was taken under pressure from Iran.

“The Iranians threatened to halt funding to Hamas,” the official said. “Apparently, not all the Hamas leaders are happy about normalizing their group’s relations with Syria. The decision will cause a rift within Hamas.”

Several Palestinians, meanwhile, criticized Hamas for renewing its ties with the Assad regime which, they said, is responsible for the killing of thousands of Palestinians.

The split in Hamas is now between those of its members who are willing to do whatever it takes to please Iran and keep Tehran’s money flowing to the terror group, and those who are unwilling to overlook all the Palestinians whom Assad has killed and imprisoned over the years. So far it seems that the “unprincipled” MB members, willing to genuflect to Bashar Assad, are winning. But opposition to this change in policy remains strong within Hamas.

Assad’s regime has killed over 4,000 Palestinians in the civil war; it has tortured to death 636; it still imprisons nearly 2,000 Palestinians of whom 110 are women. Yet this is the same regime that Hamas is now trying to win over by its profession of support and solidarity. No wonder some Palestinian commentators have been scathing in their criticism of Hamas’s decision to apologize to Assad, the man whom political analyst Yasser Za’atreh accused of having “destroyed Syria,” and declared that “complimenting him is a sin.” Hamas’ new policy is described by one Palestinian journalist  as “political prostitution,” and by another as “disastrous and tragic.” These are strong words, and bespeak a split in Hamas ranks, where clearly there is a deep division over the decision to attempt a reconciliation with Assad.

But Hamas is broke. it needs to keep the money flowing from Tehran, and the political price it must pay –Iran has laid down the law — is to forgive and forget Assad’s brutality against both Palestinians and the people of Syria, and overlook his war, a continuation of that of his father, against the MB. Instead, it must embrace him and his regime. And that’s what Hamas has just done, to the disgust of many Palestinians. As so often in the Middle East, it’s all about the Benjamins.

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