The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas is feuding with its former patron, Iran. Along with Hezbollah and Russia, Iran has stood squarely behind the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria while it slaughtered tens of thousands of Syrians over the last two years. Despite its own rather gruesome history of violence, the carnage was too much for Hamas. The group’s external leadership deserted their longtime headquarters in Damascus last year and abandoned the Iranian “Axis of Resistance” in the process.
This apparently did not sit well with Iran’s clerical regime. News reports indicate that Iran has drastically reduced its financial assistance to Hamas, which was said to be over $100 million a year, in recent months. While Hamas officials deny these reports, and Iran almost certainly continues to provide weaponry to the Palestinian faction, the relationship is unquestionably strained.
The Arab Spring years have been surprisingly unkind to Hamas. The falling out with Iran is just one example. The Islamist group has failed to benefit from the rise of other Islamist governments across the region. Instead, the faction finds itself at a strange inflection point, with more ideological allies but few true alliances.
That Hamas would be at this crossroads was unthinkable three years ago. The regional standing of the movement, born in the early days of the 1987 Palestinian intifada as a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group, was buoyed by the rise of the meteoric rise of various Brotherhood governments across the region. Hamas had already emerged victorious in the 2006 Palestinian elections, and in 2007 it subsequently became the government in the Gaza Strip after ousting the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup. So when the Brotherhood ascended regionally in the wake of unrest of the Arab Spring, it seemed only natural that the de facto government of Gaza would seamlessly integrate into the new Middle East.
But Hamas’ financial relationship with Iranian and Syrian patrons soon became a liability. The group found itself caught in a sectarian tug of war between its Shi’ite financiers (Iran is Shi’ite and Syria is a client state of Iran) and the new Sunni order (the Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni). Hamas’s decision was soon made easier by Western sanctions against Iran for its illicit nuclear program, which ate into Iran’s foreign exchange reserves and eroded the regime’s ability to bankroll its proxies. Hamas then found itself in the decidedly awkward position of having an alliance with the Iranian-backed Alawite regime in Syria while Assad mowed down Sunnis and Palestinians, alike. Hamas pulled out of its Damascus headquarters in February of last year.
Hoping to realign with the new Sunni regional order, the movement dispatched senior figures to manage relationships with three powers strongly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. Over time, this triumvirate has filled the void left by Iran.