Sunday, February 08, 2015

08-Feb-15: Iran says Hamas chief heading to Tehran to mend bridges, say Iranians. No he's not, say Hamas

Meshaal with Iran's Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, four years ago [Image Source]
This past Friday morning, the oddly named Iranian state-owned online mouthpiece PressTV announced [here] that Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, "is to travel to the Iranian capital of Tehran soon". It bases this on something said by Ahmed Yousef, senior adviser to Ismail Haniyeh who is prime minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza. The Iranians say "The trip is mainly aimed at improving the ties between Iran and Hamas."

What's the state of those ties? According to The Guardian, Iran and Hamas have a
"rapprochement... three years after a breach over the Palestinian party's refusal to back the Syrian government in the civil war, and amid its current political isolation following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The rebuilding of the relationship is likely to dismay Israel and the US... Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas's political bureau, based in Qatar, has met Iranian representatives in Ankara and Doha in recent months, and may visit Tehran in the coming months." [The Guardian UK]
Trouble is, that Guardian report is from January 2014, more than a year ago.

Meanwhile down in Gaza, the official spokesperson for Hamas is busy denying that Meshaal is heading to Iran anytime soon. And why is he not going? Because
"Hamas's relationship with Tehran is good"
says Sami Abu-Zuhri, so
"Currently, there are no arrangements for Meshaal to travel to Iran."
It's not that hard to understand how Hamas messaging tends towards the incoherent. The Hamas mouthpiece, Abu-Zuhri (a loathsome thug, a serial molester of women, and a mule about whom we last wrote a month ago - see here) is confined to the Gaza Strip. So face to face meetings have probably been scarce. Meshaal had never been there until making a flying visit in December 2012.

Meshaal has for decades lived in a succession of well-appointed locales far from "Palestine" and Gaza: first Kuwait from 1967 until Iraq invaded in 1990; then in Jordan until expelled from there in 1999; then in Doha, Qatar for two years before removing himself to the pleasant and hospitable Damascus, Syria in 2001. He fled Syria in February 2012, for Qatar, where he has been a "dear guest" for some years, reportedly ensconced in a luxury hotel suite.

Several weeks ago, the New York Times said "Qatar's top diplomat" denied "rumours" that Meshaal was being expelled from there. But when your expulsion has to be officially refuted at the foreign ministry level, there might be trouble afoot. The word last month was that Meshaal might be about to try his luck in Turkey where the leadership's patience might be less thin that of Qatar's, and where an official said on the record that it would be okay with them if he settled there.

As for the Hamas and Iran warming-up, the evidence continues to be not so clear.
Against this confused and confusing background, friends of Israel will have noted with disquiet some recent Iran-focused statements from US government sources including among others
  • The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey: "... I think Iranian influence will be positive" [January 8, 2015]
  • "When President Obama initiated talks with Iran on its nuclear program, both he and Iran’s leaders insisted they would be limited to the outstanding nuclear dispute. But it soon became clear that Obama had higher hopes and had begun to see the talks as a prism through which to view, and even solve, the region’s troubles." | Washington Post, February 6, 2015
We will definitely be continuing to watch this space.

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