Hamas Is Not An Iranian Proxy

Ever since the Israeli attacks on Gaza began, some of the more hawkish elements among the punditry, such as Robert Kagan, have been claiming that Israel is not attacking Hamas so much as it is attacking Iran. Kagan states:

Israel has just embarked on a land invasion of the Gaza Strip after a week of aerial bombing. Gaza is bordered by Egypt, and was under Egyptian military control from 1949 through 1967. And yet in a startling rebuke to geography and recent history—and in testimony to the sheer power of audacity and of ideas—the mullahs in Teheran hold more sway in Gaza today than does the tired, Brezhnevite regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

I’m not terribly surprised that Egypt doesn’t hold much sway in the Palestinian territories, given the history of the region. However, I was interested to see exactly what evidence that Kagan offered to demonstrate that Iran and Hamas were collaborating on strategy and policy.

Of course, no such evidence was provided.

That’s because, as far as I can determine from researching online, no such collaboration appears to exist. The best I could come up with is that Iran does provide some funding for Hamas, but that funding level is at a paltry $3 million per year. Saudi Arabia and Syria are much bigger funders of Hamas, and some Hamas leaders operate out of Syria.

Even at that, though, it’s pretty clear that Hamas is pretty much a home-grown Palestinian organization. They may accept funding and support from other countries, but there’s not much evidence that they act as a “proxy” for any of them.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    So, this explains why Iran is theone screaming the loudest in support of Hamas, and why Iranian made arms are constantly showing up in the hands of Hamas fighters?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree that Hamas isn’t simply a puppet of the Iranian government. However, I don’t see any conflict between its being a homegrown Palestinian terrorist organization and its receiving support from Iran and furthering Iranian interests.

    The dictionary definition of proxy is:

    the agency, function, or office of a deputy who acts as a substitute for another

    Which part of the definition do you object to in the relationship between Hamas and Iran?

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    Dave,

    In what way is Hamas “acting as a substitute” for Iran? That implies that Hamas is basically taking orders from Iran as to where to strike, or at the very least collaborating with them on stategy and tactics. I don’t see any evidence for any of those things.

    Bithead,

    By that logic, Isreal is a proxy for the United States. Would you agree?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    In what way is Hamas “acting as a substitute” for Iran?

    Iran’s leaders are Islamists; Hamas is Islamist. Iran’s leaders hate Israel; so does Hamas. When Hamas follows its own agenda, it furthers Iran’s and with Iran’s exerting more influence in the region (as you’ve acknowledged) that furthers Iran’s interests as well.

    I don’t think that Iran directs Hamas but I don’t think that there needs to be a chain of command for Iran to use Hamas as a proxy.

    Being a proxy is not a commutative relationship. By striking at Hamas Israel definitely does not strike at Iran. However, by supporting Hamas Iran does strike at Israel.

  5. Michael says:

    Iran’s leaders are Islamists; Hamas is Islamist. Iran’s leaders hate Israel; so does Hamas.

    You may consider the Ayatollah to be Islamist (though I would disagree), but the President?. If you classify Ahmadinejad as “Islamist”, then any muslim country in the whole of the middle east would probably fit the same association.

  6. Alex Knapp says:

    Iran’s leaders are Islamists; Hamas is Islamist. Iran’s leaders hate Israel; so does Hamas.

    I think that this is an oversimplification. Hamas is a Palestinian nationalist organization that, while heavily theocratic (in a Sunni direction, I might add), is more concerned with obtaining more power over Palestine (and eventually Israel) than it is with explicitly theocratic goals.

    I’d also contend that Iran’s leaders don’t “hate” Israel so much as they find them to be a useful scapegoat.

    When Hamas follows its own agenda, it furthers Iran’s and with Iran’s exerting more influence in the region (as you’ve acknowledged) that furthers Iran’s interests as well.

    Perhaps, but I’d argue that Hamas’s actions are much more in Syria’s interest and further Saudi influence in that region, given the relationahips and relative funding levels.

    I don’t think that Iran directs Hamas but I don’t think that there needs to be a chain of command for Iran to use Hamas as a proxy.

    I have to disagree here completely. The word “proxy” implies a commutative relationship. Otherwise, “ally” is a better term.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    The word “proxy” implies a commutative relationship

    Surely not. The commutative relationship is one in which when A is B then B is A. That would be saying that if Hamas if a proxy for Iran, then Iran is a proxy for Hamas.

    If you’re looking for a synonym than “client” is probably better than ally.

  8. Bithead says:

    By that logic, Isreal is a proxy for the United States. Would you agree?

    Certainly, that’s the position among many of the governments of the Middle East. Interesting, though, that they tend to deny that argument when applied to this situation.

    I’d also contend that Iran’s leaders don’t “hate” Israel so much as they find them to be a useful scapegoat.

    I seem to recall that argument raised at least once as regards Germany. Once again, odd how that argument doesn’t get used both ways.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    I don’t think that Hamas is a client of anyone but Hamas. But if they’re anybody’s client, they’re a client of the Saudis, not the Iranians. The cultural, financial, and influential ties between Hamas and Saudi Arabia are much, much stronger than those between Hamas and Iran.

    Even with that, I wouldn’t characterize Hamas as a “client” of the Saudis. The available evidence suggests that there’s little if any direct collaboration between Hamas and any government. Just financial support means little in this type of context.

  10. Alex Knapp says:

    Bithead,

    I’m impressed that you managed to not address my question, mischaracterize my argument, raise up a strawman, AND get us into Godwin’s law territory in four short sentences. Impressive.

  11. Bithead says:

    When you offer low hanging fruit, Alex, what do you expect? I mean, comon’, man… how am I mischaracterizing your argument? Before you answer, you may want to look to where I directly responded to yoru question. See? Words, and everything.

    (Hint: The lack of credibilty of most of the governments in the middle east where Israel is concerned is an assumption. Perhaps it being one you don’t share being your issue with understanding/accepting my answer?)

    And you can forget hollering “Godwin”… if Anti-Jewish hatred is the topic, what is the standard?

  12. Anderson says:

    As someone’s pointed out, if Hamas and Hezbollah were really puppets of Iran, then it would make sense for Hezbollah to start causing trouble in Israel’s north while Israel is busy in Gaza.

    Silly Iranians! They’re so incompetent!

  13. Barry says:

    The Atlantic is following in the footsteps of The New Republican. That f*cking article is presented as if it were an article, with a debatable point, instead of a lunatic charge made by a guy who’s spent the past several years being very visibly both wrong and insane.

  14. fars says:

    Are u in charge of Iranian regime ?! running this topic to prove that they are not receiving funds?! I AM IRANIAN .I UNDERSTAND PERSIAN and I do understand when Iranian leaders confess themselves in bright-day-light that WE ARE SUPPORTING HAMAS, Hizbollah and Sadr Group (Iraq) ! if you doubt on what i say,just talk to some Persians in case u don’t believe me.I’m really sorry for Palestinians who are getting killed and never hide my anger against what Israel is doing but i also do give them some small rights to take actions against those Rockets from HAMAS.

  15. fars says:

    Fortunately 85% of iranians have no problem with Israel or Jews.Please exclude this amount of people while mentioning about IRAN! that 15% consists of Iranian Regime and it’s followers who get benefits through this all.

  16. Bithead says:

    As someone’s pointed out, if Hamas and Hezbollah were really puppets of Iran, then it would make sense for Hezbollah to start causing trouble in Israel’s north while Israel is busy in Gaza.

    Depends.
    How many are members of both?

  17. Michael says:

    As someone’s pointed out, if Hamas and Hezbollah were really puppets of Iran, then it would make sense for Hezbollah to start causing trouble in Israel’s north while Israel is busy in Gaza.

    Ask and ye shall receive. Well, maybe.

  18. Phil Smith says:
  19. Alex says:

    I’m confused. Is the sole counter-argument being presented here that: Hamas is a proxy of Iran because “Iran’s leaders are Islamists; Hamas is Islamist. Iran’s leaders hate Israel; so does Hamas.” How does this make sense? Just because two entities have a shared interest does not make them proxies of each other.

    I like cheese and hate tomatoes. Does that mean anyone else who shares that view is my proxy?

    Hamas is fundamentally a Sunni Islamist organisation. Iran is run by Shi’a Islamists. These two groups do not consider each other as proper muslims. How can they be proxies for each other? They are as much each other’s proxy as France and the US are or any other countless Western countries that happen to share a common cause.

  20. Nima says:

    Gaza is more or less completely isolated by Egypt and Israel.

    Before questioning if hamas is a proxy for iran, it should first be asked how iran could even significantly arm them.

    The answer of course is that iran can’t arm hamas, at least to an extent to cause anything close to the threat hezbollah poses for israel.

    With that said, it’s no surprise that iran doesn’t spend that much on hamas. Why give money away to a group that can’t import anything significant inside the territory?

  21. AK says:

    I don’t believe that Bithead and Dave Schuler have paid enough attention to one of Alex’s central points of divergence between Hamas and Iran: the Shiite/Sunni split. Both the Iranian regime and Hamas are Islamist, but from competing sects of Islamism, and neither is about to engage in some sort of fuzzy, feel-good ecumenical dialogue with the other. Hatred for Israel will only take their limited partnership so far. (So too with Syria and Sunni Islamist movements, e.g. the Hama massacre of Feb. 1982).

    The other point to consider is that even within Shiite Islamist groups there are deep suspicions among Arabs about the motives and machinations of “Persians” (Iranians, if you don’t know). We should be cautious not to lump diverse Middle Eastern groups and ethnicities into a monolithic and eternal enemy camp.

  22. Alex Lobov says:

    and we should equally be cautious to not scapegoat Iran with all the troubles in the world.

    PS. thought i’d point if anyones confused that I’m not Alex Knapp should probably have included my surname in my previous comment 😛

  23. Adam says:

    Alex, I don’t know about the “proxy” argument, or whether a fight with Gaza is also a fight with Iran. I don’t see how a victory in Gaza would mean Iran would be chastened.

    But your research missed two things (besides Iranian weapons and rockets):

    (1) that Hamas sends fighters to train in Iran, who then come back and share the training (one of the articles was in the Times London)

    (2) Iran gives money to Syria. Syria then gives money to Hamas. So Hamas money comes from Iran. It’s not rocket science…actually there might be some rocket science involved.

  24. anonymous says:

    Israel supported Hamas in its early days as a rival against Arafat’s Fatah. Ergo, Hamas is Israel’s proxy.

    Hamas is homegrown. Yes, it receives funding from Iran, and the Saudis, and Syria. Their weapons are puny: homemade rockets, mortars, AK47s. No F-16s, no MIGs or Mirages, no SAMs, no tanks. The Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank fight the Israelis with stones when they have nothing else.

    Thinking that fighting against Hamas is really a fight with Iran is either a foolish mistake or a lie.

  25. DS says:

    Thanks Alex, I think you are spot on. While Iran does fund Hamas (though not as much as many of the Gulf States), the connection is mostly being used to muddy the water for those unfamiliar with the conflict. The Israel-Palestinian conflict has little or nothing to do with Iran.

  26. jeebus says:

    Iran’s leaders are Islamists; Hamas is Islamist.

    Wow, dumbest argument I’ve heard in a while. I suppose the Taliban is an Iranian proxy as well?

  27. John Burgess says:

    Alex: You state that Saudi Arabia is a “much bigger funder(s) of Hamas.” Can you provide a cite to support that?

    As best I can tell, the government of Saudi Arabia is highly critical of Hamas and doesn’t care for it one bit.

    Now, if you mean there are individual Saudis sending money to Hamas, I might agree, but that’s a different kettle of fish.

  28. Michael says:

    Their weapons are puny: homemade rockets, mortars, AK47s. No F-16s, no MIGs or Mirages, no SAMs, no tanks. The Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank fight the Israelis with stones when they have nothing else.

    I think this is a very important point. If Iran is supporting Hamas, they must be doing a very poor job of it.

  29. Shaun says:

    “You state that Saudi Arabia is a “much bigger funder(s) of Hamas.” Can you provide a cite to support that?”
    Saudi Arabia gives a lot of money to the University of Gaza which is a Hamas run body. Israel, when she occupied Gaza, regularly found very large arms caches there. After Damascus the most important office Hamas outside of Palestine is in Riyadh. Though, generally, I believe you’re correct that the Saudis prefer Fatah.

    Alex, doesn’t a lot of Iranian influence in the Arab world tend to go through Damascus? They’re a Shia and a Persian country that, for those reasons, has limited pull with a predominately Sunni and Arab population. Though support for Iran has increased over the past few year I understood that they’re still not terribly popular. The Syrians, whose regimes religious validity Iran bolsters, I thought provided them help and a bit of cover in the Arab world. Is that possibly the case here?

    And, of course, it goes without saying that Hamas is homegrown. We’re not talking about the Badr Brigade here. I don’t think they’re a proxy for anybody. They’re a terribly fractious movement with numerous arguments between Hamas-in-Gaza, the Damascus branch, the Riyadh branch and so on. Proxies tend to be better organised.

    Shaun

  30. Nathan says:

    Where are Hamas getting their Grads from, if not Iran? Russia?

  31. benjoya says:

    you’re missing the point: THE WHOLE WORLD revolves around us. For instance, yes, saddam invaded iran and killed hundreds of thousands of their people, but since we invaded iraq, iran has forgotten their losses and wants to take down the shi’ia government just to spite the US.

  32. Sam says:

    May I say something as I have been following the Iran\Israel relation\conflict a little. There is no question about the relation before the Iranian revolution, Shah (king) was a friend of Israel, but wanted to have the upper hand in the region, like a regional super power. That dream was\is still in Iranian leader’s minds.

    After the revolution, under the rhetorical surface, there has been three periods in Iran\Israel relationship.

    Period One, until the outburst Iran-Iraq war in 1980, Iran was building relation with palestinians and distancing from Israel, Arafat went to Iran and was promised a lot of money (but never received more than a few percent of it!), there he noticed that Iranians are not true, but tactical supporters of Palestine and that feeling is still in the hearts of Palestinians.

    Period Two, after the outburst of Iran\Iraq war, almost all Arabs, including Palestinians sided with Iraq, Arafat praised Saddam, so Iran got much closer to Israel, all Iranian logistics were American while there was no relation with the US, much of Iran’s need was provided through Israel, as Iran was fighting the direct enemy of Israel, i.e. Arab Iraq. this unspoken bond was in effect until after the first (Persian) Gulf war. when Iraq became so weak, and with Iran’s ambition (and growing population and power) Arab were more afraid of Iran than Israel. Israel took advantage of the situation and changed enemies. Recall that the Iranian-Arab conflict is much older than the Israeli-Arab conflict! This achieved its height in double containment and Helm-Burton and D’Amoto law’s in US congress that banned trade with Iran (and they really hurt Iran’s economy extensively, nearly every Iranian was supporting Bush in 2000, cause they hated Clinton!) Iran saw all these things coming from Israel, and started investing against Israel ever since.

    But Iran’s most important concern is its sovereignty and fear of attack from US and being divided by force, that’s why they are seeking Nuclear power. Ahmadi-Nejhad came to power merely because Iran-US talks failed, Iran has always been seeking an agreement with US in which US would promise not to attack and not to support dividing Iran, and correctly or incorrectly, Iran sees Israel as the force preventing it to happen. In 2003 Iran suggested an agreement with the US which entailed disarmament of Hezbollah (the true proxy of Iran which those who claim Iran is involved now should answer why Hezbollah is not doing anything) and recognizing Israel. It was rejected by Americans and Iran naturally blamed Israel for that. Since then Israel would become number one enemy of Arabs again.

    Israel (in my belief) has never been afraid of a Nuclear Iran, but a Nuclear Arab world, and the first will lead to the second inevitably. Iran is a tactical enemy while the Arab neighbors are strategic ones.

  33. Ed Smithe says:

    And therein lies the central problem with our country. Too many of our countrymen do not burden themselves with the necessary task of actually READING and RESEARCHING the complicated nature of this fight. Iran is an insignificant part of the Hamas problem…Was it Iran that forced a majority of Palestinians to (democratically) elect these thugs over the corrupt, incompetent and U.S. supported PA? Was it Iran that prevented the people in Gaza from stopping these terrorists from launching their missiles at Israel?

    As dangerous as Iran is, they are not the responsible party in this case. Rather than propose another war be started, perhaps these individuals should take the time to understand this problem…or are our men and women not worth the effort?

  34. Bithead says:

    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1231424929369&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

    Iran is exerting heavy pressure on Hamas not to accept the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel, an Egyptian government official said on Sunday.


    The Egyptian official said that the two Iranian emissaries, Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, and Said Jalili of the Iranian Intelligence Service, met in the Syrian capital with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Shallah.

    “As soon as the Iranians heard about the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, they dispatched the two officials to Damascus on an urgent mission to warn the Palestinians against accepting it,” the Egyptian government official told the Post.

    “The Iranians threatened to stop weapons supplies and funding to the Palestinian factions if they agreed to a cease-fire with Israel. The Iranians want to fight Israel and the US indirectly. They are doing this through Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon”.

    Any questions, class?

  35. Michael says:

    Any questions, class?

    Yes: Why was that relevant?

  36. Bithead says:

    I should think that self evident;
    Hamas IS a proxy for Iran. Always has been.

    Think about it this way, change the names of the players… Exchange the Palastinians for Israel, and exchange Iran for the US. Given the situation as described above, would you not say Israel was a proxy for the US in the region?

  37. Michael says:

    I should think that self evident;
    Hamas IS a proxy for Iran.

    So says an unnamed Egyptian official about a meeting in Syria that didn’t involve any Egyptians, about a country and organization that Egypt is not particularly fond of, told to an Israeli newspaper.

    But hey, if that’s enough proof for you…

  38. Michael says:

    Think about it this way, change the names of the players… Exchange the Palastinians for Israel, and exchange Iran for the US. Given the situation as described above, would you not say Israel was a proxy for the US in the region?

    Okay, lets play that hypothetical. Say an unnamed Syrian official claims in a Gaza paper that US representatives met with Israeli representatives in Riyadh and told them not to agree to the cease fire.

    Now tell me, wouldn’t you be skeptical about that claim?

  39. Bithead says:

    That depends. Who has the White House at the time?

  40. Michael says:

    That depends. Who has the White House at the time?

    The implication being that the you would view the same evidence as trustworthy if it validates your already held beliefs, but not if it contradicts them.

  41. Bithead says:

    So says an unnamed Egyptian official about a meeting in Syria that didn’t involve any Egyptians, about a country and organization that Egypt is not particularly fond of, told to an Israeli newspaper

    (Mumbles…And you wonder why we don’t trust the Dinosaur media.)

    ummm… have there been any denials on the point issued by Iran? They never hesitate to issue denials, right?

    Were these wto in fact, there for the meeting?
    (Clue: there are pictures)

  42. Bithead says:

    The implication being that the you would view the same evidence as trustworthy….

    No, the implication is, I’d agree with the move.

  43. Ed Smithe says:

    “ummm… have there been any denials on the point issued by Iran? They never hesitate to issue denials, right?”

    Good Lord, this is the measure of your analysis…whether or not Iran issues a denial. I thought that Iran was an untrustworthy bunch? Apparently not when they agree with your good ideas.

    Just what constitutes a “proxy?” Hamas receives more money from Saudi Arabia than from Iran. Are you telling us all that Iran has more influence over a Sunni organization than Saudi Arabia does? Let’s assume for a moment that I’m correct…Do Iran and Saudi Arabia’s goals coincide?

    Honestly you need to bury your emotion and start focusing on the FACTS. Iran is not calling the shots…and even if they were it would be impossible to know. Is it unreasonable to believe that perhaps Hamas doesn’t like the Israelis based solely upon their own history?

    Let me ask you something…Why is it so important that Iran be behind all of this? Are you seeking some kind of causus belli?

  44. Bithead says:

    Good Lord, this is the measure of your analysis…whether or not Iran issues a denial

    And the measure of yours is what, exactly? Is it, as I suspect a parallel to another in this thread, that the Jpost covered the story?

    Hamas receives more money from Saudi Arabia than from Iran

    But more weapons from Iran. And, more threats, apparently.

    Let me ask you something…Why is it so important that Iran be behind all of this? Are you seeking some kind of causus

    Because that scenario fits the facts to hand. Why is it so important that Iran NOT be behind all of this? Is it so you can lay further blame for the conflict on Israel, I wonder?