A recent series of secret meetings in Beirut between representatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Al Quds Brigade, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have discussed a renewal of a rejectionist alliance. Hamas’ relationship with Iran had cooled after the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections. As a result, in Washington, the U.S. intelligence community is on alert about the possibility of targeted terrorist actions coming from this renewed alliance that could derail the just-resumed P5+1 talks with Iran.
Hardline IRGC factions inside Iran have already declared their strong opposition to President Hassan Rouhani’s recent communications with President Obama, and terrorist attacks on U.S. allies or interests could be one weapon that Iran’s hardliners use to jettison U.S.-Iran direct talks before they even get underway. Last week, the head of the IRGC issued a strong criticism of President Rouhani for accepting a telephone call from Obama after he had refused U.S. overtures for a face to face meeting with Obama in New York during the UN General Assembly session.
For Hamas, reinvigorating the Iran relationship is important. Since July, when the Egyptian military removed President Mohammed Morsi from power and launched a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, culminating in the group being outlawed last week, Hamas has been in turmoil. Not only did the Palestinian group lose its Egyptian patrons, but with the succession in Qatar, Hamas also lost that source of funding, and has been given one year to shut down its operations in Doha.
The Hamas talks in Beirut as well as in Tehran are being led by Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the founders of Hamas and a longtime ally of Iran. Al-Zahar had been kicked off of Hamas’ Shura Council in April 2013 as part of a factional move by Hamas head Khalid Mashaal. Now, by renewing ties with Iran, al-Zahar has strengthened his hand once again within Hamas. In the recent period, the flow of money from Tehran to Hamas has resumed, as well as the flow of weapons.
Al-Zahar also announced that the militant wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, have established a joint command with the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The two groups are prepared to launch joint operations in the near future. This has also alarmed Egyptian security services, which have been battling a growing separatist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
The other dimension of the resumption of Hamas-Iran cooperation is closer coordination between the Palestinian movement and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Some top Hamas officials have already made the move from Doha to Beirut and it is anticipated that Hamas will soon be principally headquartered in Lebanon and Gaza.