Situation Assessment Restoration of relations between Hamas and the Syrian regime
Haz 20, 2022 2769

Situation Assessment Restoration of relations between Hamas and the Syrian regime

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Preamble :     

Previously, the relationship between Hamas and the Syrian regime was about to reach the point of complete rupture at the end of 2011, when the head of the movement’s political bureau at the time, Khaled Meshaal, permanently left Damascus.    At the same period, about all the movement’s cadres who were residing in Syria left the Syrian capital as well.    

This estrangement came based on the movement’s position, or what could be called the movement’s “no position” on the Syrian revolution that broke out in the spring of 2011. At that time, Hamas refused to issue a position in favour of the regime, despite the latter expected such a step from Hamas and from the rest of the Palestinian organizations residing in Damascus. At the same time, however, Hamas did not issue a clear position in support of the Syrian revolution.    

Hamas chose to leave Syria silently at the time, without even announcing the closure of its offices in Damascus. Since then, Hamas has refrained from issuing any negative official position against the regime, although unofficial positions were recorded in support of the Syrian revolution from some of the movement’s leaders. At one of the movement's rallies in Gaza in December 2012, the flag of the Syrian revolution was raised for a few seconds only. Later, Hamas leaders said that this incident “was like a mistake” ( [1] ) .    

On the other hand, the regime took a clear hostile stance against the movement, as the official Syrian media outlets described the head of the political bureau of the movement at the time, Khaled Meshaal, as a traitor, an ungrateful, and a homeless person ( [2] ) .    

Bashar al-Assad said in 2015: The Syrian people no longer trust the leaders of Hamas, and that his country’s relationship with it has come to an end on the official and popular levels. Al-Assad accused the movement of supporting Jabhat al-Nusra and working with it side by side in the Yarmouk camp. ( [3] )    

Al-Assad said only a few years ago that Hamas "uses resistance as a title in order to achieve political goals under the religion umbrella. “Of course, this is as same as the Muslim Brotherhood's approach.", al-Assad added ( [4] )    

Recent years have witnessed an increase in the positive statements issued by Hamas leaders to praise the regime. The most prominent speakers are of the movement's wing that very loyal to Iran. These leaders often talk about efforts are being made to restore relations with the regime. They also said that they understand why the regime that “feels wounded” is refusing to restore ties with them" ( [5] ) , according to Mahmoud al-Zahar, who is one of the leaders of the wing close to Iran within the movement.    

During the Gaza war in 2021, Bashar al-Assad met a number of leaders of the Palestinian factions in Damascus. One of the leaders who attended that meeting reported that al-Assad greeted all the armed Palestinian factions, including the al-Qassam Brigades ( [6] ) . Such talk was reported in some media outlets affiliated with the Iranian axis. However, the official Syrian media outlets did not mention such reports in their coverage of the meeting.    

When Osama Abu Hamdan, one of the most prominent Hamas leaders in support of normalization with the regime, was asked about such a greeting, he replied: "Al-Assad's position in support of the resistance is neither strange nor surprising." "If anybody pokes us, we certainly poke him back," Abu Hamdan went on, confirming that "It is normal for relations to return with Damascus to its former state.” ( [7] )    

It is clear that the Iranian mediations between the two parties have reached a decisive point, and that the arrangements for the return of relations have been sponsored by Iran and implemented by Hezbollah. In this context, Ismail Haniyeh paid a visit to Beirut. He arrived on June 21, 2022, and this visit is believed to be aimed at finalizing arrangements for normalizing relations, including a meeting with Syrian security officials in Beirut, under the auspices of Hezbollah.    

Reaching such a point was confirmed by a movement official’s statement, reported by Reuters on June 21, 2022, in which the official said: Hamas made a unanimous decision to restore relations with Syria” and that the regime and the movement “held meetings at higher levels of leadership to achieve this” ( [8] ) .    

First: the motives led the movement cut relations   

Before examining the motives of the movement to restore ties with the regime, it is necessary first to understand its motives for severing it at the beginning of 2012. This helps in understanding the movement political behaviour and the criteria that govern the movement’s decision-making process.    

In order to understand the decision, it is necessary to look into the time frame in which it took place, and the data that existed at the time, which can be summarized in three main facts:    

  • The sweeping tide of the Arab Spring in the entire region at the time, and the positions of Islamic and popular movements around the world, especially in the Gulf, in support of the Syrian revolution and Hamas as well. A situation as such did not allow the movement at that time to take a supportive or semi-supportive position for the regime, although many of the movement's leaders at the time, were demanding to adopt such a position. Then, the position of the movement was considered a moral one that was compatible with the orientations of people calling for liberation, even at a minimum.    
  • The regime's failure to respond to the mediations made by Hamas leaders, and its insistence on using the security solution and excessive violence that dragged Syria into the abyss.    
  • The emergence of signs of the imminent collapse of the Syrian regime, as the regime at that time had begun to lose control increasingly, as in the second half of 2012, the regime controlled only about a third of the Syrian territory ( [9] ) . Moreover, the Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian models emerged strongly at the time, consequently, Hamas felt that the relationship with the Syrian regime is no longer feasible and risky.    

Second: Hamas motives to restore the relationship  

Over the past ten years, the map of forces in the region has changed dramatically, resulting in a new reality for Hamas, just like all other forces at the state and the sub-state levels.    

One of the most important facts that affected Hamas was the decline of the tide of the Arab Spring and the decline of all the revolutionary and Islamic forces that emerged during the first years of this decade. This was reflected in the decline of the parties and bodies supporting the Palestinian movement. On the other hand, forces opposed to political Islam came to power in several Arab countries, which imposed limitations or even stopped the movement’s activity in key countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. This led to make from the Qatari and Turkish arenas are the only two active ones for Hamas. However, these two arenas have limited possibilities of action for Hamas.    

Since the end of 2019, and with the changes taking place in the region, especially the Biden administration’s assumption of power in the United States and the outbreak of the Corona virus, the countries of the region have repositioned themselves. This, in fact, creates limited spaces to move for states, like Turkey, those already have limited areas of movement.    

These facts pushed Hamas further into the Iranian embrace, which further strengthened the influence of the wing close to Iran within the movement, which is mainly represented by the Al-Qassam Brigades, which receives its funding entirely and directly from Iran, in addition to several Hamas political figures in Gaza, Beirut, Tehran and other countries.    

As a result of the rise in the influence of the wing close to Iran, the movement has become more responsive to Iranian pressures, even if these pressures do not carry direct interests for the movement itself. It can be said that the movement's normalization with the regime, and its acceptance to restore ties with the regime simply after an apology, as a direct response to an Iranian request.    

However, the movement justifies this decision locally by saying that the regime is an integral part of what is called the "axis of resistance".    Furthermore, Hamas argues that strengthening this axis is in the interest of the Palestinian cause, and that Syria is part of the countries of the encirclement with which the movement must be allied, due to their geopolitical importance in relation to the Palestinian cause. In addition to the above-mentioned facts, Hamas also sees that the prevailing general trend in the Arab region is to normalize relations with the regime ( [10] ) ; therefore the normalization of the movement with Damascus comes in a natural and logical context.    

Third: Iran's motives from restoring ties between Hamas and the regime   

Iran represents the godfather of normalization between Hamas and the regime. It can be considered the top, and perhaps the only, winner at the present time from this normalization.    

Iran has a number of motives to put pressure on the two sides to normalize their relations, which can be summarized as follows:    

  • To bring its allies into one camp, as the Iranian narrative of events has a coherence that is only distorted by the distancing of the regime and Hamas from each other. The rift between these two allies also weakens Iran's ability to market the regime in particular, and, in turn, to justify its narrative in general, at the popular level.    

 

  • The Iranian desire to use Hamas as a pretext for tasks that transcend the scope of the Palestinian cause, most notably marketing the Iranian project in the region, or at least controlling negative voices against Tehran. In this context, Hamas has power cards come from being a Sunni group and a Palestinian resistant movement. This, in fact, allows this movement to play roles that Iran, Hezbollah, and the rest of the allies are unable to play. Accordingly, any moves by Hamas in support of the Iranian project requires reconciliation - albeit a formality - between the allies.    

 

  • The proxy wars in the region have turned into a soft war. Accordingly, the war in Yemen has temporarily stopped now, and such a situation may continue for a long time. Likewise, the conflict in Iraq and Lebanon between Iran’s allies and the allies of the West / the region has turned into a political one and the battles in Syria have also stopped, and so on.    This is being done in parallel with the “Saudi-Iranian” and “American-Iranian” talks, which require Tehran to build a political alliance to encounter the Western/regional alliance. Building this alliance calls for resolving the disputes between two important allies within it.    

 

  • The isolation of the Syrian regime and its economic collapse. This is to be added to the failure of all its efforts and its allies' ones - especially the Russians - to break the regime's isolation. In this regard, all the Arab countries attempts to normalize relations with this regime stopped, and consequently any talk of its return to the Arab League ended up. As a result, the idea of lifting international and Arab sanctions imposed on the regime is no longer on the table. For this reason, Iran believes that restoring the relationship with Hamas would help strengthen the regime politically and give it more negotiating cards with the region's players.    

Fourth: The regime's motives for restoring the relationship with the movement   

In fact, although the regime benefited from the restoration of relations with Hamas, it has largely refrained over the past years from showing any flexibility towards this matter.    

The Syrian regime's security apparatus, even before 2011, often refused to give Hamas the space to move that has recently granted to it, because all the security forces were responding to the desire of Bashar al-Assad, who was convinced of such an approach, by virtue of his closeness to Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, and Khaled Meshaal, head of the movement's political bureau.    

As a result of the Hamas' stance, which the regime considers a    a treason, the security apparatuses persistently refuse to restore ties with the movement.    On a personal level, al-Assad feels that he was stabbed in his back by a friend, or as Al-Zahar stated that " the Syrian state feels wounded".    

Each of the regime and Hamas have the same motivation to restore relations with each other, that is to respond to Iranian pressure, as Iran is the main supporter of the regime, just as it is the case with Hamas.    

Despite that fact however, restoring the relationship with Hamas can serve the regime's propaganda only, especially if a conflict is erupted in the Palestinian territories, as in the Gaza war in 2021, to which the regime did not know how to respond, even in terms of media. At the time, pro regime media outlets were not permitted even to cover the press conferences of the spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, despite such a war could have granted the regime an opportunity to exercise propaganda that it mastered well!    

Conclusion :   

Machiavellianism, as for Hamas, means it resorts to meeting the requests and desires of the Iranian financier, especially in light of the main Arab capitals' refusal to deal with the Palestinian movement. It is not only limited to rejecting to have relations with the movement, but it exceeds that to drying up its sources of funding from or through these countries.    

Today, the Syrian regime with which the movement is normalizing relations is not the same one that the movement forced to leave in 2011. It is now a pariah regime besieged at the regional and global levels, economically crumbling to the point of exhaustion, and lacking sovereignty even over the areas it theoretically controls.    

Furthermore, this regime, to which the movement returns today, killed more than half a million people since the beginning of 2011, including thousands of Palestinians from the Yarmouk camps, the Palestinian al-Raml camp, the Daraa camp, and the rest of the Palestinian camps around Syria. In addition, the regime's prisons (including the Palestine Branch, known as Branch 235) have witnessed the death of hundreds of Palestinians under torture (some of them are members of the movement itself), in addition to hundreds or more who are still in detention.    

The movement spent ten years trying to get balanced stance on the Syrian issue, but it will need dozens of years to justify the sin that will be committed by normalizing relations with such a bloodthirsty regime, that killed Syrians and Palestinians, and earlier did the same with Lebanese.    

Iran needs Hamas because of its importance in Iranian propaganda cantered on the Palestinian issue. This, in fact, gives Hamas an advantage in negotiations with Iran. Therefore, the movement can resist Iranian pressures to normalize relations with the regime, and limit cooperation with Iran to the minimum; because Iran is also involved in committing crimes against Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and others.    

Furthermore, it will not work for Hamas to justify its involvement in relations with a regime that has killed many Syrians with being under Iranian pressures, nor because of Assad's hostility to Israel. The movement knows that the Israeli veto is what prevented Assad's downfall in the first place, and that decades of false claims about the "resistance regime in Damascus" was not reflected in firing even a plastic bullet in the border areas of its own occupied land.    

Through reviewing the local, regional and international conditions, it can be concluded that the movement’s approach towards the regime is an estimate of the worst situation in the movement’s political history in terms of direction and timing. In fact, it is a decision that is not justified by any pressure or pursuing interests, as it is the costliest decision in terms of moral, ethical and political aspects, which are the prices that the movement will pay today and in the future; because it will be a blot on the movement and the Palestinian cause history.    

Executive Summary:     

Previously, the relationship between Hamas and the Syrian regime was about to reach the point of complete rupture at the end of 2011, based on the movement’s position, or what could be called the movement’s “no position” on the Syrian revolution that broke out in the spring of 2011. At that time, Hamas refused to issue a position in favour of the regime, despite the latter expected such a step from Hamas and from the rest of the Palestinian organizations residing in Damascus. At the same time, however, Hamas did not issue a clear position in support of the Syrian revolution.    

It is clear that the Iranian mediations between the two parties have reached a decisive point, and that the arrangements for the return of relations are underway and sponsored by Iran and implemented by Hezbollah.    

As a result of the rise in the influence of the wing close to Iran, the movement has become more responsive to Iranian pressures, even if these pressures do not carry direct interests for the movement itself. It can be said that the movement's normalization with the regime, and its acceptance to restore ties with the regime simply after an apology, as a direct response to an Iranian request.    

 

 

 

 

Each of the regime and Hamas have the same motivation to restore relations with each other, that is to respond to Iranian pressure, as Iran is the main supporter of the regime, just as it is the case with Hamas.    

Through reviewing the local, regional and international conditions, it can be concluded that the movement’s approach towards the regime is an estimate of the worst situation in the movement’s political history in terms of direction and timing. In fact, it is a decision that is not justified by any pressure or pursuing interests, as it is the costliest decision in terms of moral, ethical and political aspects, which are the prices that the movement will pay today and in the future; because it will remain a stigma in its history and the history of the Palestinian cause.    


   


( [1] ) "      Abu Marzouk to Al-Mayadeen: Meshaal raised the flag of the Syrian revolution by mistake, and we were not involved in the internal affairs of Syria and Egypt.” Al-Mayadeen TV, 14/10/2013،  https://bit.ly/3ObrVdj    

( [2] )      "      The Syrian media outlets accuse Meshaal of treason.” Sky News Arabia      ، 2/10/2012،  https://bit.ly/3Ndr8ai    

( [3] ) Al-Assad: Saudi policy will backfire and destroy it, and the relationship with Hamas is dead.” Al-Mayadeen TV, 19/04/2015،  https://bit.ly/3HGiPmo    

( [4] ) Al-Assad in an interview with Al-Alam TV: The Syrian-Iranian relationship is strategic. The Syrian News Agency 13/6/2018،    

https://bit.ly/3xB6GKE         

( [5] ) Al-Zahar: Efforts to restore the relationship with Damascus, and it was better not to abandon it. Quds Net news agency 10/07/2019،  https://bit.ly/3biwtQj    

( [6] )      "Al-Assad sends his greetings to the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, during a meeting with the leaders of the Palestinian factions." Rai al-Yaoum, 20/05/2021:  https://bit.ly/39JXyeX    

( [7] ) "      It is not strange, Hamas weights al-Assad's position in support of the resistance.Sama News 21/05/2021،  https://bit.ly/3OrS8UH    

( [8] ) "      Hamas decides to resume its relations with the Syrian regime.” Arabi 21      ، 21/06/2022،  https://bit.ly/3HG5sCu    

( [9] ) Morris, Loveday, Assad regime 'controls less than a third of Syria', claims former premier, The Independent, 14/8/2012 https://cutt.us/AcEJG         

( [10] )      Normalization with the regime took place only by the UAE, which belongs to the axis completely opposite Hamas, and what is said about an “Arab approach to normalization with the regime” has completely stopped, and that the region is currently witnessing completely opposite trends.    

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