Hamas on the move. From Shi’ite axis to Turkish-Qatari orbit
Hugh Naylor, The National
Nov 03, 2012
JERUSALEM –It has been called the “Axis of Resistance”, but the anti-US alliance of Iran, Syria and Hizbollah and Hamas is disintegrating.
Hamas’s decision to align itself with Sunni-led countries such as Qatar and Bahrain has come as a major blow to the axis also reeling on several other fronts.
The Qatari emir’s visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza last month underscored the degree to which the axis has unravelled and sent a powerful message the governments in Damascus and Tehran, which views the Arab Gulf state as an arch foe.
Taher Nunu, a Hamas spokesman, said last week that the head of the Bahrain Royal Charity Organisation, Mustafa Al Sayed, would soon tour the Palestinian enclave, further underlining Hamas’s changing approach to foreign policy.
Cracks first appeared in the axis when Hamas angered the Tehran government, an important patron, for failing to maintain its loyalty to Bashar Al Assad as the uprising against his rule started 19 months ago.
Compounding the group’s woes, Iran’s economy is showing signs of distress from biting western sanctions over its nuclear programme, Syria’s president is fighting for his regime’s survival and Hizbollah in Lebanon is under fire from opponents who blame it for the assassination of an anti-Syrian intelligence official.
That Hamas, a Sunni Islamist group, has allied itself with Sunni powers reflects the faultlines in the Middle East, say analysts.
Hamas was the only Sunni member of the axis, which consisted of Shiite Iran and Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Alawites of Mr Al Assad’s regime (Syria’s minority Alawites are followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam).
“We’re seeing basically the resistance axis becoming much more vulnerable and under duress. So even if it survives, it’s really under tremendous pressure,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
“The Hamas shift to the Saudi-Qatari-Turkish orbit represents a major nail in the coffin of the resistance axis,” he added. “Now you are talking about Iran and Syria and to a lesser extent Iraq and this undermines the social element because Hamas added the very important Sunni dimension.”
Less than a decade ago, the axis seemed to be on the rise and so too Shiite Islam following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime marked the end of Sunni domination in Iraq as a Shiite government came to power. The government in Baghdad has since warmed ties with Iran – much to the chagrin of the US and its Arab allies.
In 2004, Jordan’s King Abdullah – a US ally – warned of a developing “Shiite crescent” in the region.
But the Arab Spring has empowered Sunni Islamists, who won democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia,
reversing the momentum the Jordanian monarch had warned about.
In Syria, too, the rebels fighting to topple Mr Al Assad are Sunni.
“The fate of the alliance rests on the future of the Assad regime,” said Bilal Saab, Middle East analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
“If Assad goes, Iran and Hizbollah will suffer and find it much more difficult to plan, coordinate, and communicate.”
Still, Mr Assad could very well triumph, which Iran would “trumpet as a major success”, said Yossi Alpher, former director of Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
But if the Syrian leader does indeed fall, Israel and the Sunni-Arab states would face a new challenge.
“Iran and its nuclear ambitions will remain an issue and you could possibly have a Syria run by extremists, and Israel, the West and the Arab moderates will be faced with determining whether the alternative is actually better,” Mr Alpher said.