Hamas is Not Iran's Puppet
New America Media, Commentary, William O. Beeman, Posted: Dec 31, 2008
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Editor's Note: The popular wisdom that Iran is pulling the strings behind
Hamas doesn't take into account the geography of Gaza argues William O.
Beeman. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at
the University of Minnesota and past-president of the Middle East Section of
the American Anthropological Association. He is the author of "The 'Great
Satan' vs. the 'Mad Mullahs': How the United States and Iran Demonize Each
Other," published by the University of Chicago Press (2008).
The conflict between Israel and Hamas is not a proxy war between Israel and
Iran. This is a myth that has grown up during the Bush administration, and
is now widely promulgated with little or no support.
Iran has, it is true, been sympathetic to the Hamas situation, particularly
since the U.S.-endorsed Palestinian elections of 2006, when Hamas won a
plurality of votes, allowing it to form a government. Subsequently, the new
Palestinian government was rejected by Israel and the United States, and an
economic embargo plunged the Palestinians into economic chaos. At that point
Iran provided substantial humanitarian aid.
In the present conflict, Iran is also sending two ships to provide
However, American and Israeli analysts would have the world believe that
Hamas could not carry out any actions against Israel if they were not
directed by Iran. As George Joffee of the Cambridge Centre of International
Studies maintained in 2006 in aninterview with
> U.S.-based Radio Free
Europe and Radio Liberty, "The Israeli government has alleged that
indirectly through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran is engaged in trying to
control the events inside the Occupied Territories and there have been
allegations with no proof at all, of involvement in some of the more violent
activities there. Those links I suspect are largely Israeli propaganda and
don't really carry water."
The same is true today.
No one promulgating the theory that Hamas's attacks on Israel are directed
by Iran bothers to think much about geography. Hamas has been effectively
sealed off from the world by Israel, and by Egypt. The Israelis have
essentially controlled the import of food and medical supplies. The idea of
Iran shipping arms to Hamas under these conditions is patently absurd. The
rockets launched against Israel that started the current conflict were
clearly homemade, low-level weapons, not sophisticated arms.
A parallel claim is that Iranians are providing training to Hamas. Given the
rhetoric, one would imagine that this is being done on a massive scale.
However, on March 9, 2008 the Times of
> London reported
that 150 Hamas fighters were being trained in Tehran. Hamas itself claims to
have 15,000 fighters, and Israel has millions of potential fighters at its
command. Thus training for a team of 150, if the facts are correct, is
hardly much of a threat to Israel.
Hezbollah in Lebanon is sometimes cited as an Iranian cat's-paw in the
region, but Hezbollah has no geographical access to Gaza. Therefore they are
limited to leading protests in Lebanon. Timur Goksel, former adviser to U.N.
Peacekeepers in Lebanon, told Reuters News
> Agency on Dec.
30, "With all their rhetoric about Palestine, there is not much [Hezbollah]
can do about Gaza, short of getting Lebanon involved in another disaster. So
they are leading the popular reaction."
Egypt is not a conduit for Iranian arms either. President Hosni Mubarak is
caught in a dilemma with regard to Gaza. He receives aid from the United
States, and has a long-standing peace treaty with Israel. Moreover, his
secular government is desperately afraid of Islamic extremism, which they
see as a threat. Because Hamas has a religious base, not a secular one like
Fatah, its rival for power in the Palestinian community, they are seen as
dangerous. For this reason, Egypt has kept the border crossing to Gaza
firmly closed except for humanitarian emergencies.
Why then does the myth of Iranian military support persist? One reason is
that it has been a long-standing American foreign policy belief that
resistance movements cannot exist without state support. Before Iran was
targeted as the source for support, Libya was the U.S. bogeyman. It is
instructive to look at rhetoric against Libya from the 1980s and see that
exactly the same accusations that were leveled at Libya then are being
hurled at Iran today.
Finally, Iran does not help matters. The rhetoric of the original Iranian
revolution is still alive and well in some segments of Iranian political
life. Iran ousted a Western-supported leader, the Shah, and tried in the
early days of the revolution to promulgate this action elsewhere in the
Middle East. Hezbollah and Hamas were sympathetic rhetorical partners. Iran
supported Hezbollah in its early days, but no longer controls its
operations. Iran had nothing to do with the founding of Hamas, but sees its
conflict with Israel as sympathetic with its revolutionary ideals. This does
not mean that Iran is controlling the action.
The more apoplectic visions of Iranian involvement see Iran developing
nuclear weapons and supplying them to both Hezbollah and Hamas. However, not
only is there no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program; the
simple logistics of transfer of such weapons to a place like Gaza are
For Israel, and the world, blaming Iran for its troubles with Hamas does not
advance the peace process. Nor would attacking Iran mitigate in any way the
tensions that exist between Israel and its neighbors.
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