In contrast to the Lebanese arena, where Iran has tied itself to and used Hezbollah as its representative and proxy, in the Palestinian arena Tehran has based its strategy on two parallel axes. The first is fostering its relationship with Hamas and providing it with funds to build and establish the organization’s power base in Gaza. The second is strengthening its relationship with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and cultivating the group as a close and valued protege, even closer to Tehran’s heart than Hamas is.
The Iranians haven’t ignored Hamas’ strength over the years, and in recent months have also invested considerable effort to maintain ties with it, despite the cooling of the relationship between Hamas’ leadership and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
And yet, even during the peak of Iran’s relationship with Hamas, in the days after the organization took control over the Gaza Strip by force, Tehran couldn’t ignore the clear advantages which lay in developing closer ties with the Islamic Jihad.
Firstly, the Islamic Jihad was prepared to get closer to Iran, and not just militarily and diplomatically. It was willing to get closer ideologically as well, and to find a bridge between it, a Sunni group, and the large Shiite power.
Hamas, for its part, chose to tie itself ideologically to Sunni spiritual authorities, such as Sheik Yousef Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, and to the Muslim Brotherhood in general throughout the Arab world, which has never hidden its hostility toward Iran.
Secondly, the Islamic Jihad has never made a claim to dominion and authority. This makes it an uncompromising ally, free of the restrictions that Iran itself must navigate. Hamas, on the other hand, is guided by more complex, usually pragmatic considerations.
Indeed, while Hamas has proceeded to disconnect itself from the Syrian regime under moral claims, the Islamic Jihad remains loyal to Assad. Presently, as the Islamic Jihad leads the current round of fighting against Israel from Gaza, Hamas is playing the game of “realpolitik” as an observer from the sidelines.
Be the results as they may after this round of fighting, what is clear is that the alliance between Tehran and the Islamic Jihad is only getting stronger.