By Pinhas Inbari
Gaza-based Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spread two conflicting messages during his recent tour of the Middle East. While in Bahrain, Haniyeh expressed support for the Sunni government in its struggle against the Shiite unrest. Yet, during his stay in Tehran, he extended support to the same regime that is triggering the unrest in Bahrain and the Gulf region. While this strategy of support for parties in conflict is typical of the Muslim Brotherhood, best exemplified by Qatar, Haniyeh’s messages are set too widely apart.
The guiding principle behind Haniyeh’s contradictory tour was not the overall interest of the Hamas, but rather his personal rivalry with the head of the Hamas Politburo, Khaled Mashal. One of the main elements in Hamas’ internal struggle for power is the ability to mobilize financial aid for Gaza. Iran suspended its aid in retaliation against Mashal's refusal to support Syrian President Assad’s regime during a critical moment of local rebellion. According to Palestinian sources, the Arab Spring cost Hamas approximately US$ 80 million each month, 30 million from Iran and 50 million from the late Libyan despot Muammar al-Gaddafi. The breakdown of Mashal's relations with Syria and Iran led him to his current sponsor, Qatar.
While Haniyeh largely failed to convince the Gulf states to stand behind him, he appears to have had better success in Tehran. In an interview on ‘al-Alam’ TV, an Arabic speaking Iranian station, he stated that while others, i.e. Qatar, conditioned their aid on political demands Iranian aid was unconditional. Moreover, he hinted that Qatar was interested in moderating Hamas and exploiting Mashal political plight in order to politicize his organization. That is the reason why Haniyeh emphasized that Hamas had to stick to Palestinian borders “from the sea to the river" in all its public statements, in stark contrast to Mashal's acceptance of the 1967 borders. Finally, Haniyeh’s highly publicized tour as 'prime minister' challenged Mashal's acceptance of Abu Mazen as the future Palestinian unity prime minister.
Haniyeh has labeled the aid to Gaza as a "breaking the siege" strategy. Iranian involvement in Gaza, however, directly conflicts with Turkish economic aspirations fought under the same banner of breaking Israel's blockade. Hamas's strategy is not to prefer Iranian funds over Turkish aid, but rather to mediate between the two countries' presence in Gaza as a precursor to normalizing their relations to status quo anti - before the Syrian crisis emerged. This course of action corresponds with the general thinking inside the Muslim Brotherhood, which dictates seeking an alliance with Iran and avoiding a regional clash on the Sunni-Shiite fault-lines.
In order to unite Sunna and Shia, Iran and Turkey, Haniyeh used an external enemy - Israel. To further his cause, he practically called for a "Muslim Crusade" to "liberate al-Aqsa". As a devout Muslim leader, Haniyeh truly believes in this objective. Furthermore, he believes that by naming the uprising after the Al-Aqasa Mosque, the Arabs will unite under the Muslim banner and paint Palestine with the relevance of the Arab Spring. In his speeches and interviews, Haniyeh defined Gaza as the "outer edge of Jerusalem", thus turning Gaza into the center of Hamas' activity and the gateway to the liberation of Jerusalem.