Hamas was born during the first Palestinian
uprising (intifada), the result of a December 1987 meeting of the Palestinian
branch of the Muslim Brotherhood at the home of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Its
creation reflected dissatisfaction with the secular Palestinian parties, as well
as the belief that religious ideology could provide comfort and enhance
strength. By 1989, it had a representative in Tehran, Imad al-Alami. The 1987
Hamas charter, furthermore, calls for Israel's destruction.
the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the PIJ backed Iran because it viewed Iran as more
committed to the Palestinian cause than any other state. Hamas came to share
this view of Iranian support for the Palestinians.
reported in May 1998, just after a visit by Sheikh Yassin, that he said in
his view "the Islamic Republic of Iran supports this ideal [of a Palestinian
state] even more than the Palestinians themselves." Yassin later added that
Iran seems to be "prepared to extend all kinds of aid to the
Palestinian people's struggle for liberation," Beirut's "Al-Shira"
reported in August 1998. Yassin had told "Al-Quds" from Jerusalem in July
of the same year that he "was not aware that the Iranians are so strongly
enthusiastic about Palestine," adding, "I found that the Iranians have an
intense desire to liberate Palestine and to endure all the U.S. harassment and
difficulties in order to achieve this objective."
The U.S. State Department,
which lists Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization, asserts that Iran
provides the group with "some funding," but most of the organizations' finances
are derived from expatriate Palestinian donors and from contributors in the Arab
world. This assertion is vague, but the extent to which Yassin was exaggerating
about Iranian support is equally unclear.
Allegations that Iran
funds Hamas were addressed in a 31 May 1995 speech in Qom by Hojatoleslam Hassan
Rohani, who was deputy speaker of parliament and secretary of the Supreme
National Security Council at the time. "When the Westerners themselves started
saying we should deprive Hamas of financial power, the Westerners themselves
said that Hamas obtains the bulk of its money from Muslims who live in Europe
and the United States," state radio quoted Rohani as saying. "Hamas does not
need our money. Islamic Jihad does not need our money.... They need our
guidance, our ideas, our path, and our line."
Funding aside, a
strong formal relationship exists. There is a full-time Hamas representative in
Tehran -- Abu-Osama Abd-al-Moti, who was preceded by Abu-Muhammad Mustafa.
Moreover, Hamas leaders and their Iranian counterparts interact quite openly.
Political bureau chief Khalid Mishaal met President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in
Damascus in mid-January and in Tehran in December. Mishaal met Ahmadinejad's
predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, on several occasions. They met in Damascus
in May 1999 and May 2003, and again in Tehran in September 2000, April 2001, and
After the 1999 meeting in Damascus, Hamas's Abu Marzuk
said, "The [recent] meetings of the Iranian president, Mr. Khatami, with
different Palestinian groups in Damascus were the real display of Iran's
attitude toward the Zionist regime and Tehran's clear message to Tel Aviv,"
Iranian state television reported on 23 June 1999.
Iranian officials also meet with Hamas representatives with some frequency. In
October 2000, for example, Tehran Radio reported, Foreign Minister Kamal
Kharrazi met with Abu Marzuk, as well as with representatives of the PIJ and
other rejectionist groups.
The Hamas victory represents the
possibility that in free elections people will elect Islamists. This is a
problem for Washington and an opportunity for Tehran. U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said in Davos on 26 January that only a "two-state
solution" will meet Palestinians' aspirations, and this requires "a renunciation
of violence and turning away from terrorism and accepting the right of Israel to
exist and the disarmament of militias," according to the State Department
website. She added, "Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed."
The role of another Iranian backed group, Hizballah (Party of God), is
similar in Lebanon. There are Hizballah representatives in the national
legislature, in the cabinet (although they are currently boycotting it), and in
municipal institutions. Yet Washington considers Hizballah a "foreign terrorist
organization" as well, and it continues to press for its disarmament.
Iran is in a position to influence and moderate the behavior of Hamas, as
well as that of Hizballah. Given its hostile stand on Israel, which has grown
more belligerent under President Ahmadinejad, Iran is unlikely to press these
organizations to tone down their rhetoric or modify their stances on Israel's
right to exist. Indeed, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi warned "supporters of
the Zionist regime" on 26 January that they should "open their eyes" to regional
realities. A 26 January state television commentary, furthermore, said that by
electing Hamas, Palestinians have rejected any approach other than
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