Hezbollah and Hamas: simple instruments of Iran?
The war on Gaza ended few days ago with a total of 1300 Palestinians killed, 80 % are civilians among whom 35 % are children, whereas the Israelis suffered from 13 casualties, 10 soldiers and 3 civilians. Specialists started to analyze the conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, few of them assured that Hamas acted on Iranian orders, and that the Palestinian organisation is only a simple instrument in the hand of Iran, just as the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Dr. Antoine Basbous, director of the Arab Countries Observatory in Paris, is one of these analysts who defend this position. He declared that Iran has pressured Hamas into opening the fire against Israel to send a message to the United States and Barack Obama implying they will have to deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran(1). He argued during the 2006 July war in Lebanon that Hezbollah was responsible for the war in high jacking two Israeli soldiers, following the orders of the Islamic Regime in order to pressure the International Community in negotiation with Teheran on the nuclear file(2). Both of them, Hamas and Hezbollah, are part of the “Shia Crescent” in his eyes, it is leaded by Iran and regroups the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad (who comes from a Shia Sects: Alawites), the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sunni Hamas in Palestine, this latter is exceptionally accepted although not being Shia like the others(3). This analysis is therefore based only on a sectarian bases, the Shia connection, despite the fact he does not explain why Hamas, a Sunni political group is represented in this Shia coalition. Secondly, he argues on the total submission and obedience of these parties to Iran, which controls them in order to reach its own objectives. Even the newly elected president Obama accused Iran to export terrorism through Hezbollah and Hamas. Brainwashing or reality?
Hamas and Hezbollah are definitely linked to Iran in various ways, namely politically, militarily and economically, although Hezbollah is much more supported in every aspect by Teheran than Hamas. Hezbollah receives significant subsides from the Islamic regime, estimated at $100 million a year(4), whereas Hamas only gets financial helps on an irregular basis. Politically they are backed by Iran because of their common opposition to Israel and their use of armed resistance against the Israeli occupation. Militarily, the Lebanese political party is sponsored massively by the Islamic Regime; this latter exports its materials through Syria, which is finally delivered in Lebanon to the Hezbollah. For Hamas, the situation is completely different, Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and waters, which is not the case with South Lebanon. Gaza is dislocated from the West Bank, and has no neighbouring support – unlike the case with Hezbollah, which relied on Syria for help in 2006. Hamas’ borders are with Egypt, which not only is unsupportive but is a burden for Hamas because of its refusal to open the Rafah Crossing and its close ties to both Israel and the US. Collaboration took place between the two political parties and until now, in particular in the military domain where Hezbollah contributed to the preparation of Hamas fighters to a possible confrontation with Israel. Hamas for example used Hezbollah methods in the building of more than 1200 underground tunnels(5)to resist harsh shelling from the Israeli aviation and artillery, and in order to wage a guerrilla war. Finally Hezbollah has largely been influenced by the Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 and the political party is linked to the concept of Willyaet Faquih, which means submission to the Jurist theologian, who is currently the Imam Khameneï, guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Dr Ali Fayyad, a Hezbollah member and one of the main thinkers of the party, claims that this link is more spiritual, moral and religious and that the Willayet Faquih is not exclusively related to the Iranian state(6).
We have seen the connections between the Hamas and Hezbollah on one side and Iran on the other side, but this does not allow us to say that these political parties are simple instruments of the Islamic Republic. They might be some similarities in their political ideas and decisions but both groups firstly are political parties with their own national agenda.
The Gaza war showed the autonomy of both groups towards Iran. On Hezbollah’s side, in the opinion of specialists such as Dr. Antoine Basbous, they firmly believe that if Iran had ordered the Lebanese group to open a second front in the north of Israel, Hezbollah would have started a new war. Unfortunately, these analysts do not explain to their readers, why Iran did not give this order, which would have helped Hamas, its supposed other instrument in the region which would have made sense because Iran would not like to see Israel weakening Hamas, its main ally in the occupied territories. The Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki even declared to his European colleagues that Israel would face several fronts in case this latter attacked Gaza, this prediction did not happened, if we except the unclaimed launching of old rockets from south Lebanon (may be coming from salafists, Lebanese army claims), repeated twice during the war on Gaza, but with no harsh consequences and no casualties. Hezbollah on the opposite denounced this action and stood firmly by the Lebanese government declaring that it was not Hezbollah’s will to engage Lebanon in a new war with Israel.
We believe that Hezbollah did not enter this war because of national considerations and internal factors linked to Lebanon. Firstly, a great amount of their own followers are still rebuilding their houses in the suburbs of Beirut, Dahyie, and in the South of Lebanon, where the Shia community is mainly concentrated, and which suffered the most from the 2006 war. Thereby a new war would definitely have affected Hezbollah’s popularity among its followers and would have certainly had negative consequences on the legislative elections in June. Hezbollah followers would not have wanted to bear a second war in such a little amount of time. Secondly, a Hezbollah action against Israel would seriously have undermined its powerful Christian ally Michel Aoun and his party the Free Patriotic Movement. Actually both parties have signed in 2006 a Memorandum of Understanding, which notably fixes the use and the objectives of Hezbollah’s weaponry. The resort to armed resistance is only justified by national defence criteria unanimously approved in the country, such as the Chebaa farms, Lebanese prisoners in Israel and Israeli threat. The liberation or the defence of Palestine is not part of these criteria. As a matter of fact, Ghaleb Abou Zeinab, Hassan Nasrallah’s political advisor, declared that they support the Liberation of Palestine, but they do not want to take their place to free their lands. Their arms, he added, are for the liberation of Lebanese lands and the defence of the State, and not for Palestine(7). This is what the Free Patriotic Movement members and Michel Aoun have been claiming to the Lebanese public as their most important success through this Memorandum: the Lebanization of Hezbollah and their objectives. Thus, if Hezbollah had undertaken anything against Israel during the war on Gaza for the defence of the Palestinian cause, the Free Patriotic Movement would have lost all its hard one credits in front of its followers and the Lebanese, which would have weakened Hezbollah in the end, because Michel Aoun is its main ally. Finally, Hezbollah has always tried to maintain its armed resistance in a spirit of national cohesion in the country and preserve civil peace, and an intervention in the name of Palestine during the Gaza war would certainly have broken the fragile equilibrium in Lebanon and provoke internal strife. We can therefore analyse the way Hezbollah is linked to the Lebanese context and national considerations, it has certainly important connections with Iran, but its decisions are taken in relation to its direct environnement: Lebanon and not Iran.
In Hamas case, the Palestinian context and factors are also the first considerations in the decisions of the party. Firstly Hamas, through the voice of its leader Khaled Meechal in exile in Damascus, has already acknowledged and accepted Israel existence, which goes against Iran’s propaganda of total opposition to its existence. He declared in March 2008 that there is an opportunity to obtain a Palestinian national consensus on a political program based on the borders of 1967, which the majority of the Palestinian forces, Hamas also, agree to establish a State on the 1967 borders(8), but unfortunately Israel and the USA rejected this offer several times. A previous head of the Mossad confirmed this view, he said that Hamas leaders are ready and wish to establish a State on the 1967 borders. In relation to the war on Gaza, Israeli officials claimed that Hamas broke the cease fire, but the situation was clear for the Palestinian movement that after having endured a punishing economic blockade since its “Coup d’Etat” against the Palestinian Authority in June 2007 and having tried to implement the cease fire which it committed with Israel in June 2008 by stopping the launching of rockets on Israel and from other organisations and despite the fact Israel violated it several times, Hamas will was to sign again for another six month a cease fire with Israel(9). Nevertheless a situation whereby they could not provide basic goods and address Gaza’s fundamental needs was deemed politically unsustainable in the longer run. Hamas only demand was therefore the end of the embargo on Gaza, but Israel refused its request and the cease fire was not renewed. Hamas resistance during the war and the perception of Israel’s massive attacks as targeting the strip as a whole, not only Hamas, also made the Palestinian condemn severely Israel and stand by Hamas. The end of the war confirmed the popularity of Hamas in Gaza and in the West Bank where few rallies took place in support of the Islamo nationalist movement and for the population in Gaza. The Israelis by attacking Gaza, they unified the people behind Hamas, whereas before Hamas lacked the Palestinian population’s confidence their behaviour towards it which was being criticized harshly. The Palestinian group is however calling for a unified national government with Fatah, certainly to finally be recognized by the International Community. In their large majority, Hamas decisions were against Iran’s rhetoric against Israel and also against Dr Basbous logic of Iran using Hamas as a tool for its negotiation with the United States or Europe. Hamas logic was defined by its national logic: have a better control of the Gaza strip and to follow the will of the Palestinians in Gaza.
In conclusion, we have seen through this paper that both political parties, Hamas and Hezbollah, although being linked with Iran on several aspects, conduct policy follwing their national context and internal factors. They do receive political, military and economic support from Iran, but their decisions are autonomous from Teheran. We often forget that both were voted in with an overwhelming majority in their respective countries and are more popular than their pro-Western counterparts within the Lebanese and Palestinian systems, Fouad al-Siniora and Mahmud Abbas. Finally analysts, such as Dr Basbous and his acolytes, should not underestimate the fact that these parties are product of their own sociological environnement and therefore can not be isolated from it to be linked to foreign countries.
1)Le Temps, interview Antoine Basbous, 13 janvier 2008
2)Interview Antoine Basbous on French Television France 3, 13th July 2006
3)Le Temps, interview Antoine Basbous, 13 janvier 2008
4)Norton A.R., Hezbollah a short history, 110
5)Orient le Jour, S. Haddad
6)Interview Dr Ali Fayyad, Director of the Studies and Documentation Centre, September 2008
7)Interview Ghaleb Abou Zeinab, September 2008
8)Interview Khaled Mechaal, Damascus, March 2008
9)Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet’s executive