Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hamas and Iran becoming dynamic duo?

From Ha'aretz:
Members of the Israeli defense establishment are concerned by the close ties that seem to be developing between Iran and Hamas.

In response to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's recent visit to Tehran, experts here have said Iran is seeking to form a strategic alliance with Hamas.

According to these sources, the Iranians would like to develop a relationship with Hamas similar to that with Hezbollah in Lebanon, in which the "final word" - on matters regarding Israel, too - is Tehran's.

In Israel, experts are interpreting Hamas' move toward Iran as an act of defiance, in part based on the group's success in minimizing the damage caused by the international embargo on its Palestinian Authority government.

During his visit to Tehran last week, Haniyeh said Iran constitutes "strategic depth" for the Palestinians. He also stressed that his organization would never recognize Israel. This is the first time the Hamas leadership has publicly adopted such a view on Iran - a position directly opposed to that of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who regards moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan as the Palestinians' natural allies.

Abbas' Fatah is also very interested in building ties with the United States and the European Union.

On Wednesday, Haniyeh cut short his visit to Sudan and returned to the Gaza Strip in light of the growing tension between Hamas and Fatah. One of his aides said Haniyeh rushed back to assist in resolving domestic problems.

The close ties between the Hamas-led government and Tehran are also manifesting themselves in the links between the Iranian leadership and the group's political bureau, based in Damascus and headed by Khaled Meshal. Iran is actively contributing funds to boost these ties, and recently committed $250 million, which unlike previous grants will constitute a regular transfer to cover various PA expenses. The Iranian funding will be used in part to pay wages for civil servants and members of security forces affiliated with Hamas, as well as to construct camps for the security forces and to compensate Palestinian families that lost their homes in Israel Defense Forces operations.

"These gifts are not free," Israeli security sources told Haaretz. "The Iranians are expecting returns: a rise in influence among the Palestinians and Hamas compliance to their orders."

In the past, in part because Hamas, a radical Sunni Islamic organization, was wary of Shi'ite Iran, senior group officials were careful not to stress close ties overtly with Tehran.

Haniyeh's visit to Iran was closely monitored by Israel, as were the various statements by senior Hamas officials. The impression among various security officials is that Hamas has gained confidence in recent weeks, in part because of developments including Israel's decision to accept a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

While the cease-fire appears to be holding, even though five Qassam rockets were launched at the western Negev on Tuesday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered the IDF to continue preparations for a major ground operation in the Gaza Strip if necessary.

Defense establishment assessments do not exclude the possibility of Iran pressuring Hamas to renew terrorist activities.

At this stage, IDF sources say, Hamas has been successful in maintaining the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, and is keeping its word like Fatah did in the past.

Regarding the launching of rockets, the sources say that other militant organizations are to blame, including Fatah and Islamic Jihad. However, most of the time the calm has been kept.

Hamas' military wing is exhibiting discipline and is following instructions from its leadership to avoid violence against Israel. [...]
Let's not get carried away. (Hat Tip: Daily Alert)

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