"The advanced bunker of the Resistance Front". This is how official media in Tehran describe the Gaza Strip as it emerges from its latest mini-war against "The Zionist enemy". Needless to say, Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, regarding himself as leader of the "Resistance Front," is already looking forward to the next round of this sordid duel. Pictured: Khamenei meets with Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal (center) and Mussa Abu Marzuk (left) in Tehran on February 1, 2009. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
"The advanced bunker of the Resistance Front". This is how official media in Tehran describe the Gaza Strip as it emerges from its latest mini-war against "The Zionist enemy". Needless to say, Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, regarding himself as leader of the "Resistance Front," is already looking forward to the next round of this sordid duel. In messages to Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Ziyad Nakhalah of the Islamic Jihad for the liberation of Palestine, "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei asserts that he has received "a divine pledge that total victory is on the way", and demands that the two groups continue the fight until "our holy land is cleansed of the existence of the usurper".
Tehran media claim that "the great victory" supposedly achieved by Hamas and Islamic Jihad is, to a large extent, due to financial, material and training support from the Islamic Republic.
The daily Kayhan, reputed to reflect Khamenei's views, claims that Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets and missiles could now reach 75 percent of the Israeli territory. The aim now is to increase that to 100 percent which, if combined with the Lebanese Hezbollah's rocket and missile arsenals, could pave the way for the "total victory" that Khamenei demands.
Last January, the "Supreme Guide" ordered the allocation of an extra $200 million to the Quds Force, the body in charge of "exporting revolution". And last week, the Islamic Majlis, Tehran's ersatz parliament, increased the budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps by over 60 percent. Khamenei's spending spree is premised on the hoped of a quick lifting of US and other sanctions, which have produced the worst cash flow problem the 41-year-old regime has ever seen.
To sell this mad project to the average Iranian, who is facing economic meltdown, double-digit inflation, mass unemployment, Covid-19 chaos and unbridled corruption at all levels, Tehran propagandists have developed a narrative of victimhood with Hamas and Islamic Jihad as the "good ones" and the "Zionist enemy" as the "evil party." According to this narrative, the Gaza twins were victims of Israeli occupation and then a blockade that made life miserable for the 1.8 million inhabitants of the strip.
Several key points are left out, however, including the facts that, under the Oslo Accords, Gaza was put under the suzerainty of the Palestinian Authority and that Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005. In 2007, Hamas and its smaller partners staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority to establish an authoritarian one-party system that regards Gaza as a base for radical pan-Islamism only incidentally related to the Palestinian issue.
That move led the Palestinian Authority, a de facto embryonic government dominated by Fatah, to demand a blockade of Gaza and the continued disbursement of customs proceeds from Gaza to Ramallah.
The blockade was not a solitary move by Israel as Egypt, too, joined it as a gesture of support for the Palestinian Authority. Since then, the PA has never formally demanded that Israel and Egypt end the blockade. In other words, at least part of the misery that Gazans suffer is due to the no-holds-bar civil war between Fatah and Islamist Jihadis led by Hamas.
The daily Kayhan talks of "the urgent need for more and more effective missiles and rockets" for Gaza.
But is that a priority as far as Gazans are concerned?
A United Nations report in 2019 gave a different version of "urgent needs in Gaza": at least 800 more hospital beds, 1,000 more doctors, 2,000 more nurses, 250 more schools, hundreds of housing units to shelter multigenerational refugees, and, last but not least, projects to supply fresh water and reliable electricity.
The "urgent aid package" that Khamenei promises includes none of those things. The "Supreme Guide" couldn't care less how Gazans live or die; he is only interested in how many rockets and missiles they can launch against Israel, providing him with a bunker to boast about and hide the fundamental weakness of his shaky regime.
What if Gazans don't want their tiny chunk of God's earth to be a bunker for foreign potentates in search of cut-price glory, potentates from Gamal Abdel-Nasser to Saddam Hussein to Ruhollah Khomeini and latecomers like Khamenei and Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Gazans could imagine a different future for their land. They own 41 kilometres of prime real estate on the Mediterranean coast that could be developed to rival any beach, from the French Riviera to Tel Aviv. The recent discovery of off-shore oil and gas resources could open the money faucet for Gaza as it has for others in the region and beyond.
A stable Gaza that rejects the suicidal policies of Hamas and its changing masters could attract massive investment if only from scores of Palestinians who have succeeded all over the world. Compared to the average levels in the so-called "developing world" Gaza has a better-educated and skilled work force that could play a role in developing a modern, even high-tech economy close to major markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
During their long struggle for independence, the political elites of Timor Island, a former Portuguese colony that had fallen under Indonesian occupation, wasted decades usurping the forlorn aim of destroying the Indonesian state. They ended up realising that the reality of securing an independent state only in the eastern half of their island was a better option than fighting, killing and dying, for "total victory" of the kind Khamenei now promises to Gazans.
The new US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is repeating the "two-state" mantra as appetiser for his maiden visit to the region. That amounts to a new version of the "Eyeless in Gaza" saga. Blinken should not throw money where it ends up in the hands of Hamas, which pursues Jihad as part of a global terror organization.
Kayhan says Gazans are "thirsty for martyrdom". I doubt that even Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, who have property and bank accounts abroad, are keen to die for a lost cause. Rather than chest-beating for "suffering Gazans," the outside world should help depict an alternative vision for them, a vision based on life and dignity rather than terror and tragedy.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published in a slightly different form by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.