Gaza’s financial crisis is sending Hamas back into the arms of Iran

After relations soured at start of Syrian civil war, terror group now doing all it can to warm ties with Tehran — which has been generously rewarding border protest participants

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) meeting in Tehran with Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh. (AP)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) meeting in Tehran with Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh. (AP)

A special iftar feast was held in Gaza City last Thursday at the end of the day’s Ramadan fast, marking the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day — an event initiated by Iran in 1979 to express support for the Palestinians and oppose Zionism and Israel.

During the event, dinner was served to families of killed and injured Gazans, in a manner similar to many other iftar meals.

Nonetheless, what made Thursday’s event different was the Iranian sponsorship: The event was marked and celebrated in order to send a message of appreciation and respect to Iran. It was paid for by the Tehran regime.

Moreover, Ali Akbar Velayati, one of the closest advisers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and himself a senior official in the Iranian government, addressed the gathering via the internet.

This all happened in the presence of Ismail Haniyeh — the Gaza Strip leader of the Hamas terror group, which rules the territory — as well as a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad terror group.

Haniyeh praised the protests on the border with Israel and glorified the dead and injured in the clashes.

The event, as well as the identity of its guests and speakers, are a testament to how deeply Hamas is now interested in proving that it is close to Iran.

At the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, all high-ranking Hamas members left Damascus after the group criticized President Bashar Assad’s actions against the Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’s sister organization — in Syria.

Palestinian Hamas terrorists take part in a military maneuver in Gaza City, on March 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Now, with the Syrian civil war nearing its end and the Assad regime poised to retake full control of the country along with the Hezbollah terror group, it looks like Hamas leaders have made a dramatic decision to do everything possible to get closer to Iran and reconcile their differences.

What is the reason for this warming of ties at this time?

It could be simply money. Hamas has faced many financial challenges lately, especially considering the dire humanitarian situation in the Strip. The decrease in smuggling from and to the Sinai Peninsula, and reduced tax collection, have put Hamas in one of the greatest financial crises it has ever faced. Its main sponsors, Qatar and Turkey, aren’t rushing to transfer funds to Gaza as in the past.

The Iranians, by contrast, decided to come to Hamas’s aid on the issue of the border protests. Every Palestinian wounded near the fence gets approximately $250, a pretty significant sum of money by Gaza standards. According to assessments in Gaza, it is Iran that is funding these payments.

Against this backdrop, one cannot ignore recent reports in Lebanese and other media about Hezbollah allowing Hamas to establish military facilities in southern Lebanon. One can assume that the money for this comes from the same source: Tehran.

Hamas establishing a military presence that includes rocket launchers, right on Israel’s northern border, could present a pretty difficult challenge for the IDF in the near future, especially at the time of a complex battle with Iran in Syria, including over the presence of Hezbollah.

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