Tehran’s hostile takeover of the Palestinian cause

By | October 8, 2023

Michael Young writes:

The surprise offensive by Hamas on October 7 has launched a thousand morsels of speculation. There is indeed much that can be concluded from the organization’s attacks against Israeli towns, its random killing of Israelis, its abduction of Israeli military personnel and civilians, and its firing of thousands of rockets against Israeli towns and cities. But one thing that is undeniable is that what we saw, and are continuing to see, in Gaza is Iran’s hostile takeover of the Palestinian cause.

There seems little doubt that Hamas’ tactics were coordinated with Iran and Hezbollah, which several years ago prepared itself for offensive actions against towns in Galilee by digging tunnels under Lebanon’s border with Israel. Contacts between Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad have been highly visible in recent months, as senior leaders of the two Palestinian organizations are now based in Beirut. By planning such a devastating operation, all these parties have provided an alternative model to that of the hapless Palestinian Authority, which has lost public support and is shriveling under an aged and corrupt leadership.

The recent rounds of fighting in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Ain al-Hilweh, between Fatah, the main Palestinian organization, and smaller Islamist groups, should be understood in this context. While Fatah, which has long dominated the camps, was not defeated, its strength appears to have eroded. Hamas denied any role in the fighting, but many observers in Lebanon believe the Islamist groups benefited from Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ quiet assistance. Moreover, Hamas was a key mediator in the conflict reinforcing its role. Doubtless Hamas and Hezbollah realize that, given the extent of Fatah’s support, the process of weakening it will take time and will be affected by what happens in Ramallah, especially if the succession of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas widens rifts within Fatah.

There are those who argue that the Hamas offensive was linked to what appears to be an imminent peace deal between Riyadh and Israel. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent remarks to Fox News certainly pointed in that direction. At the same time, various news reports have suggested that securing concessions for the Palestinians was not a priority for the Saudis. Derailing further Arab-Israeli agreements is a vital Iranian objective, since Tehran does not want to face a united regional front opposed to it. However, things go beyond that.

The Palestinian cause is at a crossroads. Abbas is now 87 and his popularity is at an all-time low. This sour mood was reflected in a poll conducted in June 2022 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which also showed that 55 percent of Palestinians supported a return to an armed intifada. Iran and Hezbollah carefully monitor the displeasure in Palestinian areas. What they have sought to do is to create a counter-narrative to that of the peace process and a two-state solution. They want to show that Israel can be defeated, therefore that what Palestinians need is a leadership which can bring about such an outcome. [Continue reading…]

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