In the shifting sands of the tumultuous Middle East, Hamas, the Palestinian terror group in control of the Gaza Strip, has found itself in an increasingly precarious position.
Feared for its massive arsenal of rockets and trained jihadis, the terror group is today also facing isolation and internal discord. With its Muslim Brotherhood allies on the run in Egypt, strained relations with former benefactors in Iran and Syria and an increasingly technologically savvy Israeli enemy, the terror organization — while still dangerous — is facing a perfect storm of problems that threatens to undermine its power.
“While one cannot currently say Islamist groups like Hamas are completely down and out, the removal of [Mohamed] Morsi’s government in Egypt and the subsequent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood leadership, as well as the Muslim-on-Muslim fighting in Syria, together create serious problems for Hamas,” said Matthew Levitt, senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institution for Near East Policy.
For many years, Hamas relied on Iran and its partners, Syria and Hezbollah, for military hardware such as rocket missiles, terrorist training and financial support. It is estimated that Hamas at one point received up to $250 million annually from Iran. But all that changed following exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s decision to close the Hamas office in Damascus in early 2012 and to pursue support from Sunni powers such as Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, all of which were on the rise at the time.
Today, analysts believe Iran’s aid to Hamas has been significantly reduced following the two parties’ fallout over Syria.
The relationship between Sunni Hamas and Shi’a Iran has always been united around their mutual hatred of Israel. In a region that is increasingly split between Sunni and Shi’a forces, Hamas somehow managed to bridge the deep theological divide between the two major Islamic sects. But in today’s increasingly polarized Middle East, with Sunni and Shi’a forces squared off in a bloody battle for the future of Syria and further tensions in Lebanon, Iraq and in the Persian Gulf, Hamas has become the odd man out.
“They [Hamas] are now largely isolated. They don’t have Egypt or Syria, and their relationship with Hezbollah and Iran is deeply strained, though not completely broken,” Levitt said.
But in light of the changes in the Middle East, Hamas may be rethinking its strained relations with Iran.
“Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni allies are not capable of supporting Hamas like Iran,” Levitt said.
Qatar reportedly pledged more than $400 million to Hamas in October 2012 during a visit to Gaza by Qatar’s ruling emir at the time, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Hamad, however, abdicated in June, and his son and successor, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has been less receptive to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Rumors are that he expelled leaders of both organizations, Mashaal and Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, in late June during the Egyptian protests against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey, another budding Sunni ally of Hamas, has also seen its fortunes fade under the leadership of Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The once-close Turkish-Israeli relationship has not recovered from the blow of the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, as a result of Erdogan’s steadfast support of Hamas, strong criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and conspiracy theories such as his recent comment that Israel was behind the overthrow of Morsi in Egypt.
But the tide has changed in Turkey. Popular protests against Erdogan and his Islamist Freedom and Justice Party in early June reduced the prime minister’s clout. Meanwhile, attempts by Erdogan to visit Gaza have been reportedly thwarted by Egyptian military authorities, who are upset over Erdogan’s criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ouster.