Hamas hedges its bets on Iran and Turkey

Islamic movement seeks new regional allies following the loss of Syria

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Mahmoud al-Zahar attends a demonstration in Khan Yunis in 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)
Mahmoud al-Zahar attends a demonstration in Khan Yunis in 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

As Hamas’s political leadership abandons the Syrian capital Damascus, the Islamic movement’s political leadership is seeking new regional allies in the form of Iran and Turkey.

Gaza Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar visited Tehran this week, meeting the secretary of Iran’s national security council Saeed Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

“The goals and strategy of the Islamic resistance in Palestine are stable and unchangeable,” Zahar told Jalili, even as Hamas refrained from taking part in rocket launches toward Israel. He thanked Salehi for Iran’s “boundless” support of the Palestinian resistance, “without expecting a thing in return.” In February, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh visited Iran for three days.

Al-Zahar’s visit to Tehran comes amid reports of cooling relations between Iran and the Islamic resistance movement, following Hamas’s break with Iran’s close ally Syria. An unnamed Hamas official told Ma’an news agency Wednesday that Iran and Hamas were “displeased” with each other.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal has permanently relocated to Qatar, his deputy Mousa Abu-Marzouk has moved to Cairo, and Politburo member Imad Al-Alami left for Gaza.

Turkey, however, is less averse to Hamas’s new stance towards Syria. A senior Hamas delegation led by Mashaal arrived in Ankara on Friday, holding talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. There is nothing strange about Hamas hedging its bets on the two regional superpowers; Turkey and Iran have recently experienced a warming in relations.

Despite the loss of its Syrian ally, Hamas is experiencing a foreign relations renaissance. High profile visits by Haniyeh and Mashaal have recently taken place to Arab countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan and Jordan.

In an Arab and Middle Eastern atmosphere more receptive to Islamic messages, Hamas is likely to find new patrons soon.

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