December 11, 2014 | Policy Brief

Khaled Mashal’s Road to Damascus Runs Through Tehran

An interview this week with a Hamas spokesman reveals that despite a temporary rupture in the Palestinian organization’s ties to Iran, the group remains reliant as ever on its benefactor, the Islamic Republic.

Speaking to Iran’s ISNA news agency, Hamas international affairs spokesman Osama Hamdan expressed hope that the group’s leader Khaled Mashal would soon visit Tehran to discuss “hostile acts of the Zionist regime towards al-Aqsa Mosque.” The rest of the interview, however, discloses the real purpose of Hamdan’s presence in Iran: normalizing Hamas’s relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

“Our relations with the Syrians are not severed,” Hamdan said, crediting Syria for being a “pillar of the ‘resistance’” against Israel. The spokesman dismissed the regime’s brutal crackdown against its own people (most of them from Hamas’s own Sunni Muslim population) as “an internal issue,” and said the Hamas leadership had left its home base in Damascus in January 2012 because of “practical reasons” rather than any dispute with the regime. He took pains to emphasize the guiding principle in Hamas’ foreign relations: “Our policy is based on [a state’s] position towards the Palestine issue.”

In the early phase of the Arab uprisings, Hamas felt encouraged by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the expected collapse of the Assad regime in Syria. Thus emboldened, Hamas not only abandoned its headquarters in Damascus, but replaced Syria and Iran with Turkey and Qatar as its main sponsors.

Now, with the Brotherhood imprisoned in Egypt, the Assad regime consolidating its grip over Syria, and Hamas’ new patrons not as generous as first imagined, Mashal’s road to Damascus appears to once again run through Tehran.

The question is what the Iranian regime demands from Hamas before allowing it to return to the Tehran-Damascus “Axis of Resistance.”

Ali Alfoneh is senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focused on Iran.


Iran Syria