Reports that appeared in recent days stating that Hamas and Syria have re-established relations after a decade of rupture between them represent a source of concern for Israel, a senior terrorism research has said.

According to a report by Reuters, “Hamas has decided to restore ties with Syria 10 years after its leadership shunned Damascus over opposition to President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on a revolt against his rule,” and cited two Hamas members.

“One official who asked not to be named said the two sides have held several ‘high-profile meetings to achieve that goal,’ ” stated the report.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, had to vacate its Damascus headquarters in 2012 after it came down on the side of Sunni rebels who were fighting to topple the minority Alawite Assad regime from power that year. Palestinian Islamic Jihad—the second-largest armed terror faction in Gaza—has remained in Damascus.

Hamas’s position on the Syrian war also harmed its ties with Iran for several years until those relations were restored in 2017, and Iranian financial and operational assistance to Hamas resumed.

Flag of Hezbollah and Lebanon flying together. Credit: Arthur Sarradin.

‘Hezbollah in Lebanon was involved’

Michael Barak, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, told JNS that the reports of a new breakthrough in ties between Damascus and Hamas look credible.

“Hezbollah in Lebanon was involved in this reconciliation,” he said. “The efforts led to a green light from Hamas and the Syrian regime. Why did it happen now? It took time for Hezbollah to mediate and for relations to thaw.”

“This is a source of concern for Israel because we know that Hamas is building up its presence in the north of Lebanon. If Hamas opens a headquarters in Syria, it can start building capabilities in Syria, too,” cautioned Barak.

With much of Syria under Iranian control, Hamas has a new opportunity to receive access to weapons from Iranian-backed forces in the area, like Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias, he assessed: “This is an arena that can develop in Syria.”

Addressing the changes that have occurred since 2012, allowing for the reconciliation, Barak said “we should remember that the geostrategic conditions have changed. In 2012, [Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President] Mohammad Morsi rose to power and this led Hamas to cancel relations with Syria, which was butchering its Sunni population. Hamas also reduced ties with Iran to minimal relations. But since then, the Assad regime has grown stronger; Iran is advancing in its nuclear program; Morsi is gone; and Hamas has been left isolated in the region.”

He explained that “Hamas concluded that it is correct to first improve relations with Iran through the involvement of Hezbollah. Now, Hezbollah has helped secure a reconciliation between Hamas and Syria; this is part of an Iranian strategic calculation to turn Syria into another zone of activity for Palestinian terror organizations.”

Looking ahead, Barak raised the scenario of Hamas seeking to act as the arrowhead of Palestinian terror factions in Syria with the blessing of Hezbollah and Iran.

On June 23, Hamas’s Political Bureau Head Ismail Haniyeh met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut in their first meeting in a year.

The two discussed their “axis of resistance” against Israel, according to Hezbollah media outlet Al-Manar.

Also in Beirut was a series of meetings with other Palestinian factions and Hezbollah in recent days, such as the PFLP and PIJ.

Barak noted that “the goal is to find a way to unite ranks and to discuss how to strengthen the Palestinian ‘bloc’ in the resistance axis.”

“Hamas is trying to create a command and control mechanism with other Palestinian factions in Lebanon so that it can operate in a more efficient manner from Lebanon, and now, Syria’s door is open, too. This is a force multiplier,” he stated.

Jordan could be less than thrilled to find Hamas cells operating near its border, according to Barak.

Egypt, also concerned by Iranian hegemonic aspirations in the Middle East, will take a dim view of the increasing amalgamation of Hamas with the Iranian axis, he added. “It makes Hamas look worse in Egyptian eyes,” he said, “like it is getting closer to the Iranian-Shi’ite crescent.”

JNS

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