Much is being said and written about Khaled Mishaal’s press conference yesterday in which he thanked Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia but failed to mention Iran, Syria or Hizbullah. Here is what he said: "I salute President Mursi’s decision to stand by us from the first moment and sending the Prime Minister Dr Hashim Qandil [to Gaza], and I salute the Tunisian Foreign Minister’s visit and salute once again the Qatari Emir for breaking the political siege on Gaza.” When cornered by a journalist who asked about Iran, Mishaal responded "Our dispute with Iran over the Syrian crisis is no secret, but we will not forget Iran’s support for us in the past.”
Mishaal’s failure to recall the Resistance Axis—Iran, Syria, Hizbullah—military and political support for Hamas and the Palestinian resistance, was not lost on Nasrallah who responded in a speech a few hours later:
The question here arises, despite the blockade imposed by some Arabs, how did the weapons reach Gaza, how did Fajr 5s reach Gaza? And how did Grad rockets reach Gaza? And how did anti-tank missiles reach Gaza, Kornet and other types? And how did anti-aircraft missiles reach Gaza? And WHO sent it? And who transported it? This is the big question that needs to be asked today, before we discuss which states are bringing us medicines and giving us a few cents. We need to ask who enabled Gaza to stand on its feet today , to fight and make surprises and to shell Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and to fire at planes and battleships…The Arabs have acknowledged they besieged Gaza.
We must ask anew about the role of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the role of Syria. And I tell everyone [quotes from Quran here in my rough translation], “he who doesn’t thank the creature, doesn’t thank the creator; and gratitude perpetuates blessings, and if you are thankful we will increase them [the blessings].” However, God says in the Quran that few worshipers thank him.
Iran and Syria and Hizbullah will not abandon Gaza and its people, and just as we were with them over the past several years we will continue to stand by them, even if we disagree on some political positions here and there. We are fulfilling our religious , national and humanitarian duty when we stand with them. The main battle is this battle which requires everyone to stand with them [Gaza].”
The response was clearly critical and even somewhat dismissive of Mishaal’s rhetoric (the allusion to Qatar’s money). But although it was a stinging riposte, it was also a reassuring one: that despite Mishaal’s ingratitude and Hamas’ position on Syria, Hizbullah and Iran would continue to support it as a matter of principle and ideology. Supporting Palestine is the foremost duty for both actors . In fact, were Iran or Hizbullah to discontinue support for a Palestinian resistance which is actively resisting, both actors would be undermining their ontological security; that is the security of their political identities as particular kinds of actors. In short, they would be undermining their own raison d’étre.
Nasrallah’s remonstrations should therefore not be construed as a demand for some kind fealty owed to Iran or Syria, which would effectively reduce such support to pure self-interest rather than ideological or political obligation, but rather, to two central concerns : First, is the fact that Hamas didn’t merely fail to thank its Resistance Axis allies, but that it thanked Egypt, Qatar and other “moderate” Arabs on more than one occasion, and omitted any reference to Iran, Syria and Hizbullah (actually Nasrallah doesn’t mention Hizbullah, only Iran and Syria). Had it not thanked anyone this omission would surely not have been such an issue.
Second, is the fact that this selective gratitude—and a misplaced one at that given Egypt’s token gestures of support for Gaza and the continuation of its blockade, as well as Qatar’s purely monetary support—isn’t occurring in a political void but in the midst of an unprecedented level of anti-Shi’ite sentiment in the region and in the context of a highly sectarian climate. In paying homage to his Sunni Ikhwan brethren in Egypt who have done little more than pay lip service to Palestine while closing more tunnels than Mubarak—and excluding the support of Shiites actors who have never had any problem arming Sunni resistance groups, Mishaal was unwittingly reinforcing sectarian tensions in the region. As has become patently obvious to all, sectarianism has become the new Israel and sectarian sentiment only serves to distract from the struggle against Israel and normalizes it in the region.
But none of this is to say that Hizbullah’s or Iran’s military support for Hamas and other resistance groups will be effected by either of these grievances. Ismail Haniyyeh’s interview on Al-Jazeera Arabic earlier this year is very telling in this respect. Despite the clumsily written title of the video, and the AJ interviewer’s biased and heavily loaded questions, Haniyyeh’s rather reserved answers actually demonstrate the unequivocal and consistent nature of Iranian support for Hamas, despite the latter’s abandonment of its Syrian sponsors. I have transcribed excerpts from the interview below:
Q. Many reports claim that Iran changed the nature of its support for Hamas because its asked Hamas for a clear stance on Syria
A. Our relationship with Iran is a good one, Iran stood by our side and supported our people and our resistance
Q: was this only in the past but not at present or in future?
A: No this remains the case, in one form or another, it continues
Hamas was always careful that whoever supports the Palestinian people should not ask for anything in return in terms of political positions or political blackmail
Q: So you were subjected to blackmail [by Iran].
A: No I am describing reality. The reality is that Hamas’ relationship with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and Jordan is a balanced relationship based on the [principle that] support for the Palestinian people is a duty and that Hamas can’t be in anyone pocket in exchange for this support….
Q: So you have no intention of making any concessions in return for the continuation of support?
A: WE HAVE NOT BEEN ASKED TO MAKE ANY FUTURE CONCESSIONS