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Hamas and Iran Move Beyond the Sunni-Shi’ite Rift

Samara Greenberg

As peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority ground to a halt in September, Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah began making an effort at reconciling their differences. With the second reconciliation meeting held just yesterday, the two main Palestinian factions, engaged in a bitter conflict since 2007, have yet to agree on key dividing issues such as how to merge their security forces and on a joint political program, including peace with Israel.

But there is little reason to believe their dialogue will prove successful, especially as a recent report by The Washington Institute suggests that Hamas’ political wing is strengthening its ties with Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas.

For years, Iran has funded Hamas’ military efforts, although the two parties’ religious ideology differed with Hamas being an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and adhering to Sunni ideology, and Iran adhering to the Shi’ite sect of Islam. Nevertheless, both parties benefited politically from the alliance based on anti-Israel, anti-Western fervor, and so it remained strong.

However, over the last few months, an Arabic-language booklet advocating that Iran is a natural brother of Hamas has been passed around to Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere. Titled The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the booklet states that, despite the Sunni-Shi’ite divide, the two are religiously compatible as they share common values and a joint vision of the revival of the caliphate. In addition, the booklet distances Hamas from its traditional benefactors, including the Saudis, by blaming them for the organization’s past tensions with Tehran.

Tellingly, the booklet’s author, Dr. Ahmed Yousef, a well-known “moderate” Hamas political leader and outspoken critic of its military wing, invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Gaza yesterday to boost the morale of the Palestinian people and the resistance. This serves as yet another example of how demonizing Israel is the one issue most Middle Eastern states can agree on. Indeed, none of this bodes well for Fatah-Hamas relations and, in turn, Palestinian-Israeli peace.