The Hamas government in Gaza failed to pay the salaries to its 40,000 employees of public and security services last July. Hamas leaders then promised full payments in August, but even this month, not all employees received their wages. Reuters reports that Hamas has denied that the movement is undergoing a financial crisis but says that "it faces liquidity problems stemming from inconsistent revenues from tax collection in the Gaza Strip and foreign aid". However, according to Arab media outlets, the reasons behind the lack of liquidity lie in the deterioration of its relations with Iran.

According to diplomatic sources, Iran has allegedly suspended aid to Gaza, primarily in retaliation for Hamas's silence about the uprising in Syria, Iran's staunchest ally. "Iran has cut back or even stopped its funding of Hamas after the Islamist movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, failed to show public support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad," Reuters reported.. Hamas's leadership has not made any statement either in support of Assad or against the protestors, mainly because the Syrian regime recently extended its brutality to a Palestinian refugee camp near the port city of Latakia. Syrian forces opened fire on the camp, causing an undisclosed number of victims and obliging 10.000 refugees to flee.

The Jerusalem-based Media Line reported that Basem Ezbidi, a Syrian political scientist at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, said that Hamas is facing the "greatest dilemma," as Hamas is findin difficulties to reconcile its conflicting interests: "On the one hand, Hamas does not want the Syrian regime to disappear," Ezbidi told The Media Line; "but on the other hand, how can it justify its strategic alliance with a state that kills Palestinians?"

Further, in April, the Saudi daily Al-Hayat wrote that Hamas's political leadership were ordered to leave Syria following its neutral stance towards the popular uprising. According to the report, Qatar agreed to host Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal. Hamas denies the allegations, however, and its political leadership remained in Damascus. Nevertheless, according to reports, there are rumors that Hamas might shift its political bureau from Damascus to Cairo

There are also rumors that Iran has started to finance a Salafist groups in Gaza. These most extreme fringes, however, although plentiful in the Gaza Strip, seem to be fragmented and, for the moment at least, with little or no central coordination -- of course that could change. Hamas has a contradictory relation with Salafist groups: at times it represses them, and at times it uses them to achieve its own goals. Political analysts seem to agree that these movements do not have a serious chance to take over Gaza, which will remain, in the foreseeable future, under the grip of Hamas.

Media Line also reported that Ayman Shaheen, a political scientist at Gaza's Al-Azhar University, said that Hamas will be flexible in adapting to the new political reality in the Middle East: "Hamas is wise. It will create a new set of alliances to replace the Teheran-Damascus-Gaza axis," Shaheen said. "Qatar is always open to Hamas, and there is rapprochement with Egypt as well." Hamas's finances cannot be sustained without external support. Last year Hamas's budget was $540 million; with taxes on merchants and goods from Israel only accounting for $55 million. Apart from donations received from different countries in the region, the rest of the funds needed have so far beenr provided by Iran, whose annual aid is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Iran, however, has another reason for cutting financial aid to Gaza: The Iranian government itself is at the moment experiencing a financial crisis partly due to sanctions, but above all due to difficulties in keeping up with oil production. As indicated by the Financial Times, "[Iran] produces 3.7 million barrels of oil a day. After years of insufficient investment in infrastructure, however, that output is threatened. Iran's deputy oil minister, Mohsen Khojasteh-Mehr, said that the country will have to invest at least $32 billion to maintain its production capacity. If it does not do so, output will fall to 2.7 million barrels per day by 2015."

All indications are that at a moment when the Syrian regime might be toppled, Iran is neithet politically nor economically in the best position to defend its vital ally, Syria. Political analysts consider Syria Iran's Trojan Horse in the citadel of the Arab world. Without Syria, Iran will never be able accomplish its dream of a renewed Persian Empire spanning up to the Mediterranean, with Israel wiped off the map.

The West woiuld do well to realize that such favorable conditions will be be difficult to meet; it should therefore push harder for the fall of the Syrian regime. Irs collapse would be a deadly blow to the hegemonic aspiration of the Ayatollahs, and might even lay down the condition for its fall. All that is necessary would be to show half the political and military determination displayed against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

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