Palestinian police officers loyal to Hamas march during a graduation ceremony in Gaza City, April 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.
Over the past month, Hamas has ramped up its diplomatic efforts to secure additional financial and military support to deter Israel from annexing parts of the West Bank.
Israel’s government is reportedly stalling its annexation plans in part due to given mixed signals from the White House, according to a Tuesday Times of Israel report. But annexation or not, Hamas will find any justification to pursue more resources and assistance in its bid to fight Israel as long as the Jewish state exists.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recently wrote to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei seeking further Iranian backing to fight Israel, according to a July 6 article in Iran’s Mehr News Agency as reported by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
In an official response letter, Khamenei pledged that the Islamic Republic will throw its full weight behind the Palestinian terrorist organization in its campaign against the “Zionist entity” — a derogatory term referencing Israel while denying the Jewish state’s right to exist. Haniyeh acknowledged receiving this message on July 6.
“Iran will spare no effort to support the Palestinian people to restore their right and hold off the evil schemes of the Zionist entity,” wrote Khamenei in the letter, translated by Al Monitor on July 13.
“Iran decided to provide the Palestinian resistance with the greatest possible support to confront Israel’s annexation plan of the West Bank. This support will be greater than ever, with no restrictions and in any way the Palestinian resistance wishes,” a senior Hamas official told Al-Monitor.
Iran’s unconditional support, the Hamas official said, “will mainly be directed to the West Bank” and will “focus on mobilizing the Palestinian people to confront this scheme [Israel’s annexation proposal].”
Iran and Hezbollah have spent years actively recruiting Palestinians and Arab Israelis to plan terrorist attacks against Israelis.
Hamas engaged with Iran in several other high-level discussions this month. Iran’s parliamentary speaker had a phone call with Haniyeh and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)’s commander on July 1, in which both Palestinian leaders praised the Iranian regime for its continued sponsorship. A Hamas delegation also met with Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, who reinforced the Islamic Republic’s backing for the Palestinians and their “resistance,” according to the Meir Amit report.
Haniyeh also sent letters to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Houthis, Iran’s militant ally in Yemen, seeking both organizations’ support against Israel, according to an article published by Hezbollah’s media relations wing and reported by the Long War Journal on Monday.
In his letter to Hezbollah, the Hamas leader called for both terrorist organizations to “unite the ranks” and deter Israel’s proposed plan to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
The Houthis, like Iran, have no territorial dispute with Israel but have nevertheless adopted the mantra: “God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam.” The group’s antisemitic and Shia-oriented ideology overlaps with the Iranian regime’s worldview and geopolitical objectives.
In a largely symbolic gesture, the Houthis responded to Haniyeh’s letter by proclaiming their support for the “resistance against the occupation.”
These recent high-level diplomatic interactions show how Hamas actively seeks outside support for resources to attack Israeli civilians, in an effort to spread fear and coerce government concessions. The Iranian regime is similarly looking to strengthen its presence in the Palestinian arena to better confront Israel amid rising regional tensions.
Hezbollah’s support for Hamas is far more robust than is commonly known — it previously sent Hamas advanced weaponry to attack Israel, and allows the Palestinian terrorist group to cultivate a base of operations in Lebanon.
Hamas’ presence in Lebanon is overseen by Saleh Al-Arouri, Hamas’ deputy leader, who has also led Hamas delegations in previous visits to Iran to coordinate efforts against Israel.
Arouri admitted in 2017 that “the aid Iran provides to the resistance is not merely symbolic” and “nobody but Iran gives us [Palestinian terrorist groups] any military support.” Arouri has directed numerous terrorist plots in the West Bank, including the 2014 murder of three Israeli teenagers. The State Department issued a $5 million bounty for his arrest in 2018.
Hamas’ chief in Gaza, Yehya al-Sinwar, also praised strong ties with Iran in 2017 and acknowledged that “Iran is the largest supporter of the [Hamas military wing] Izz Al-Din Qassam Brigades with money and arms.”
During one high-level Hamas visit to Tehran in 2018, a senior adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei “called on the Palestinians to continue resisting [Israel] until their final victory.” The “final victory” means the destruction of the Jewish state.
Despite divergent ideologies and ultimate objectives, unwavering hatred for the Jewish state unites armed Sunni Islamists like Hamas with Iran, Shiite militant groups, and secular Palestinian organizations.
Earlier this month, Hamas and Fatah held a joint conference and agreed to cooperate against Israel’s proposed annexation plans in the West Bank. If the two Palestinian rivals unite, Israel could face a coordinated violent uprising like the Second Intifada, which included Fatah and PLO-affiliated organizations joining Hamas and the PIJ to carry out deadly terrorist attacks. However, it is unclear whether Fatah and Hamas can maintain a unified approach since similar recent efforts have failed.
Arouri represented Hamas during the event and said that the terrorist group would “use all forms of struggle and resistance against the annexation project.” Fatah leaders similarly threatened Israel with the possibility of a third Intifada and said that “all the options are open.”
Hamas claims that Israel’s annexation plans have prompted the group to step up its efforts to secure more external support. But the terrorist group has been reaching out to Iran and its terrorist partners, like Hezbollah, for years before annexation was seriously discussed.
Hamas’ latest outreach campaign is part of its long-standing effort to strengthen its terrorist capabilities and strike Israel — whether annexation moves forward or not.
Steven Emerson is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing, and operations. He serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit organization that serves as one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.