Consortium Against Terrorist Finance Jan. 19, 2017, 12:16pm

On Monday, award-winning Israeli Arab journalist and NBC producer Khaled Abu Toameh tweeted a Hamas claim that Iran is the only country in the region that supports the fundamentalist group. While the well-respected writer did not cite the source of the alleged claims, overt Iranian support for Hamas has been widely-acknowledged since the terrorist organization took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Despite tensions stemming from opposing views of the Syrian war, the connection between the Islamic Republic and Hamas remains intact.

In an effort to avoid isolation while traditional partners were distracted with conflicts of their own, Hamas leaders swallowed their opposition to Iran’s role in the Syrian war, and turned to Tehran for support. Unsurprisingly, the Iranian-Hamas partnership resorted to its old ways: an emphasis on military support (including military training and the supply of logistics equipment), revolutionary rhetoric, and explicit political support for Hamas. Even if members of Hamas were going to publically protest a siege on Aleppo which relied heavily on Iranian support, Tehran was adamant on preserving its influence over the group and letting the world know. Backed by Iranian military support, Hamas continued to prepare for war with Israel.

But today, Hamas’ most pressing challenges are those related to governing rather than confronting Israel. Ten years after the group began its governance project in the Gaza Strip, the territory’s economy is “on the verge of collapse”, wars and blockades have stifled trade and destroyed large swaths of Gaza’s territory, and an electricity crisis has left many Gazans with only three or four hours of electricity per day. Overrun by enormous debt, Hamas has few independent options to deal with such internal crises. At best, these pressures cause popular, but manageable frustration stemming from Hamas’ inability to provide adequate services. Much worse however, from the perspective of Hamas, is the potential for the deteriorating situation to cast doubts over the group’s legitimacy and popular support.

So, when 10,000 people took to the streets in the northern Gaza Jabaliya refugee camp on Thursday to march towards the nearby offices of an electricity distribution company in one of the largest unauthorized protests since 2007, it was clear that Hamas was in a precarious position. Hamas officials fired shots into the air, arrested protestors, and targeted journalists in an effort to disperse a crowd hurling stones, burning tires and, on one occasion, even attempting to self-immolate. But for Hamas, the danger was not the flying stones or flaming tires, but the unmistakable frustration with Hamas rule which led the protestors to chant about being “trampled” by Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas in Gaza.

Yet, with Hamas facing a difficult challenge in the shape of growing anger and the potential for unrest in Gaza, Iran was nowhere to be found. Instead, Turkey and Qatar intervened to buy the group much-needed time by directing 15 tons of fuel and QR 43.8 million (approximately $12.8 million) respectively to solve Gaza’s electricity shortages. According to Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who was closely involved in the deal due to the PA’s role in transferring fuel to Gaza, the Qatari donation will help keep the lights on in Gaza for eight-hour cycles over the course of three months.  

As key U.S. allies holding some of the most important bases in the fight against ISIS, Qatar and Turkey have couched their support for Hamas in humanitarian rhetoric far from the usual revolutionary tones of Tehran. But, while claiming support for the Gazan people, Ankara and Doha have repeatedly intervened to ease mounting pressure on Hamas. In August, after two years without regular salary payments, Qatar transferred $31 million to pay the salaries of 23,000 Hamas employees, effectively reducing tensions among the group’s workers and their leadership. Turkey, for its part, has served as a refuge to Hamas officials who abandoned their Damascus stronghold in 2012, giving them a new home to plot against Israel. Once again, Doha and Ankara have swiftly come to Hamas’ rescue. Having their hands tied by large popular protests, unable to easily afford fuel purchases with reinstated PA taxes, and only able to provide several hours of electricity during Gaza’s winter, Qatar and Turkey have temporarily provided Hamas a way out of the mounting pressure.

Qatari and Turkish officials would likely welcome Khaled Abu Toameh’s tweet claiming Iran is the only regional supporter of Hamas. Ankara and Doha, as important U.S. allies, wish to avoid accusations of direct support for Hamas in an attempt to avoid potentially severe U.S. punishments. However, framed as humanitarian support for Gaza’s people, Qatar, and to a lesser extent Turkey, have repeatedly bailed Hamas out of the consequences of the group’s failures in governing. In many ways, stifling popular protests and growing frustration with Hamas rule, by providing funds for the provision of electricity, paying the salaries of Gaza’s public sector employees, and serving as the largest aid donor in the aftermath of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Doha has cemented Hamas rule in Gaza far beyond the effects of any military or political support from Iran. 

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