The Iranians and Hamas are exploiting the final days of the Obama Administration to restore their relations and pave the way for Tehran to step up its meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians in particular and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general.
Emboldened by the nuclear deal framework with the world powers, Iran has already taken the liberty of interfering in the internal affairs of other Arabs, particularly the Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenites and some Gulf countries.
It now appears that the Obama Administration's failed policies in the Middle East have increased the Iranians' appetite, such that they are convinced that they can expand their influence to the Palestinians as well.
Thanks to the civil war in Syria, relations between Hamas and Iran have been strained over the past few years. Hamas's refusal to support the regime of Bashar Assad -- Iran's chief ally in the region -- has led the Iranians to suspend financial and military aid to the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip. However, recent signs indicate that Iran and Hamas are en route to a kind of Danse Macabre -- a move that will undoubtedly allow Tehran to become a major player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Iran used to funnel money to Hamas because the terrorist group shares Iran's desire to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic empire. Relations between Iran and Hamas foundered a few years back, when Hamas leaders refused to support the Iranian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad. Pictured above: Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (left) confers with Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei, in 2010. (Image source: Office of the Supreme Leader)
This, of course, bodes badly for any future peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Iran has one goal only: to eliminate the "Zionist entity" and undermine moderate and progressive Arabs and Muslims.
The new US administration would do well to take very seriously Iran's comeback to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because of its implications not only concerning prospects for peace, but also because it means that this will lead to an upsurge in violence and terror attacks against Israel.
Proof of Iran's renewed effort to infiltrate the Palestinian arena was provided this week by statements made by a senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, who is in charge of the Islamist movement's "external affairs." Asked about Hamas's relations with Iran, Hamdan was quoted as saying that he had good reason to be optimistic.
"Relations between Iran and Hamas are currently undergoing revitalization, and are moving in the right direction," Hamdan announced. He went on to explain that "moving in the right direction" means that Iran would "continue to support the resistance" against Israel:
"Relations between Iran and Hamas extend over a period of 25 years. Undoubtedly, any flaw in this relationship has a negative impact. But this relationship is capable of renewing itself. This is a relationship that is based on supporting the resistance and the Palestinian cause."
In reality, Hamas and Iran have no meaningful ideological or strategic differences. Both share a common desire to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic empire. The two entities are also committed to an "armed struggle" against Israel, and are vehemently opposed to any compromise with it.
The crisis between the two sides over the civil war in Syria is no more than a minor, tactical dispute. When it comes to the real agenda, such as destroying Israel and launching terror attacks, Iran and Hamas continue to be in total alignment.
Another sign of the apparent rapprochement between Iran and Hamas came in the form of reports that the Islamist movement has appointed a new leader in the Gaza Strip with close ties to Tehran. According to the reports, Emad El Alami, who previously served as Hamas's first emissary to Tehran, has been entrusted with temporarily replacing Ismail Haniyeh as the ruler of the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh has in recent months relocated from the Gaza Strip to Qatar. At this stage, it remains unclear when and if Haniyeh will return to the Gaza Strip. Some Palestinians have surmised that Haniyeh may replace the Doha-based Khaled Mashaal as head of the Hamas "Political Bureau." If this happens, then El Alami, who is regarded by many Palestinians as Iran's agent, will become the permanent de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip.
El Alami's rise to power will undoubtedly further facilitate Iran's ambition to become a significant player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the gates of the Gaza Strip. This means that Hamas can expect more cash and weapons to enter Gaza in the coming weeks and months. Such an influx would significantly increase the likelihood of another war between Hamas and Israel. Iran's millions will not be used by Hamas for building schools and hospitals, or providing desperately needed jobs for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Nor will the Iranian-supplied weapons be stored in Hamas warehouses and tunnels, or used in military parades.
Iran expects results: Hamas is to use the financial and military support to resume attacks on Israel and "liberate all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea."
When Hamas leaders talk about Iranian support for the Palestinian "resistance," they mean suicide bombings, rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism. They are saying with unmistakable clarity that they seek a resumption of Iranian support for the "resistance" -- not for the tens of thousands of unemployed and impoverished Palestinians living under the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. The well-being of the Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on Hamas's mind.
The Iranians, for their part, appear to be extremely eager to resume their role as enablers and funders of any group that vows to eliminate Israel. As far as Iran is concerned, there is nothing better than having two proxy terror organizations on Israel's borders -- Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south.
Iran is already backing other terror groups in the Gaza Strip, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al-Sabireen. But these are tiny groups compared to Hamas, which has tens of thousands of gunmen and a strong military group, Ezaddin Al Kassam. And there is nothing to prevent Iran from extending its control to the Gaza Strip through Hamas, especially in the wake of the Obama Administration's policy of appeasing not only the Iranians, but also the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the coming months, Hamas is scheduled to hold secret elections to elect a replacement for Khaled Mashaal. Mashaal's departure from the scene is also set to facilitate Iran's effort to infiltrate the Gaza Strip. The three candidates who are seen as potential successors to Mashaal -- Ismail Haniyeh, Musa Abu Marzouk and Yehya Al Sinwar -- have all pledged to improve their movement's ties with Iran.
The biggest losers, once again, will be President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
PA officials continue to express deep concern over Iran's meddling in Palestinian affairs, especially its financial and military support for terror groups in the Gaza Strip and even some parts of the West Bank. Yet Israel's presence in the West Bank has thus far thwarted Iran's repeated attempts to establish bases of power there. Abbas has no choice but to work with Israel if he wishes to prevent Iran and its supporters from overthrowing his regime, and perhaps dragging him to the center of Ramallah and hanging him as a traitor.
Abbas and his senior aides are nonetheless plenty worried about Iran's increased efforts to infiltrate the Palestinian arena. At a lecture in Bahrain last week, PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat sounded an alarm bell when he said:
"Iran has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. Iran must respect the particularity of our country. We hope that Iran will focus on placing Palestine back on the map and not intervene through this or that group."
But this warning is likely to fall on deaf ears in the waning Obama Administration, which obviously no longer shares the widespread concern among Arabs and Palestinians that Iran remains a major threat to stability and security in the region, including Israel. Perhaps the new US administration will see Iran and its machinations a bit more clearly. The alternative is allowing Iran and its proxy terror groups further to drench the region in blood.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.