By Meir Javedanfar
Hamas’s seizure of Gaza has been greeted with universal celebration by Iran’s leadership and, naturally, by its state-controlled media.
The capture of “intelligence material, more valuable and important than those captured after the fall of the Nazis in 1945, and fall of East Germany in 1989 in Gaza, by Hamas fighters,” enthused the editors of Basirat, a Revolutionary Guard news website, as it hailed the confiscation of Fatah intelligence archives by Hamas.
The website quotes unnamed Israeli news sources as promising that “secrets such as names of senior Israeli figures who had co-operated with Palestinians, as well as Mossad and Western intelligence operations will be revealed by Hamas”.
All other government-monitored agencies joined in the festivities, declaring Hamas’s takeover as a victory, and have taken every opportunity to defend it, portraying Hamas as a legitimate political entity standing up for its rights. No effort is being spared to condemn those standing in its way, Even the Iranian parliament took a stand with 201 parliamentarians issued a statement condemning “conspiracies to reduce the political power of Hamas”, while calling the new government formed by Mahmoud Abbas “illegal.”
The across-the-board praise by the Iranian leadership fueled international speculation that Hamas had been operating on Tehran’s instructions.
But an interesting interruption in the victory party took place Wednesday.
For the first time since the fighting started, an Iranian news source — Baztab News, a leading news website owned by Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, featured a lead article calling some of Hamas’s actions during the fighting as “bitter mistakes of historic proportion”.
To be sure, the piece lists what it calls “Fatah conspiracies against Hamas” and how the West supported Fatah’s anti-Hamas activities. However it also looks askance at Hamas’s excessive use of force, such as gagging and bounding Fatah operatives, and then throwing them off 14th floor balconies. According to Baztab, such acts will serve to silence Hamas supporters and damage its standing in Palestinian society.
The fact that such questions are openly being raised by the mouthpiece of a powerful ex-military official such as Mohsen Rezai, who is also the deputy chairman of the Expediency Council, shows that alarm bells have started to ring in Iran.
What at first appeared to be an unmitigated victory for Hamas, a “brotherly” organization who Iran supports financially and militarily, is now starting to look like a liability. By using excessive force, and acting as a major factor behind the creation of the Palestinian civil war, Hamas has managed to create thousands of Palestinian enemies, who are waiting to settle bloody scores with it. As far as Iran is concerned, this presents a perfect opportunity for the US and Israel, which they will use to weaken Hamas, through military and political means.
To make matters worse, Arab states who are already worried about Iran’s rising stock will have even more reason to suspect and dislike the Tehran government for interfering in Arab affairs, and worse, for backing a side which caused a civil war among fellow Muslims. Such beliefs will sabotage Ahmadinejad’s efforts to portray Iran as a genuine leader of the Muslim world who is standing up to the West for their interests. After all, this is one of the reasons why Ahmadinejad harangues Israel so often in his speeches.
This backlash could raise doubts about whether the Hamas decision to launch the Gaza offensive was, indeed, made in Tehran. Muslims attacking Muslim allies – without the justification of U.S. or Israeli interference — is the last thing Tehran needs. This is why Hezbollah, which in fact has much closer ties to Tehran than Hamas, did not try to use arms in its efforts to depose the Fouad Siniora government.
Whether the Gaza confrontation was a mistaken decision made in Tehran, or a homegrown misadventure; the very fact that Iran is so closely associated with Hamas means that after the recent events, more Middle Eastern doors will be closed in the face of Iranian politicians, and worse, that Iran will be put in the same league as “foreign colonialist powers” whom Arabs in Cairo and Amman see as an interfering force causing ills and divisions.
The loss of popularity in the Arab and in the Muslim world as an indirect result will set back Iran’s efforts to garner support for its nuclear program. Repairing such a serious setback, will, presumably, take far more than a few dozen “Israel must be eliminated” public declarations by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author with Yossi Melman of the upcoming book %%AMAZON=0786718870 The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran%% He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)
Illustration by Yaacov Kirschen