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Iran diversifies its Palestinian strategy

Iran is sending a message to the Palestinian parties, Israel and the region about its role on the Israeli-Palestinian fault line.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) sits next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) during the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 22, 2014. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani takes centre stage at the Davos World Economic Forum Thursday, as he seeks to drum up investment for his sanctions-hit economy amid thawing relations with the West. AFP PHOTO ERIC PIERMONT        (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

For years, relations between Iran and the Palestinian factions was mainly with Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and relatively with Ahmad Jibril’s branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). For years this situation continued, until Jibril Rajoub, deputy secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee and former head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) preventive security force, arrived on Jan. 28 in Tehran on a visit — that surprised many — to meet Iranian officials.

Iran’s revolutionaries and Fatah enjoyed strong relations before and during the revolution, but after the shah's fall and the formation of the new Islamic Republic of Iran things started to change, and within a year or two the alliance that brought together men such as Mustafa Shemran, Iran’s slain defense minister, and Abu Jihad, Fatah’s official who was later assassinated, went along with the regional developments. Only few Fatah leaders have come to Iran since then, but a few years later Hamas and Islamic Jihad emerged as Iran’s adopted sons in Palestine.

Until March 15, 2011, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad formed the resistance bloc in the region. Hamas’ political bureau and its head Khaled Meshaal resided in Damascus, and so did Islamic Jihad’s secretary-general Ramadan Shallah. After the start of the revolution in Syria things changed gradually; Hamas tried to mediate in the beginning between the Bashar al-Assad regime and the opposition — mainly the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood — but when the mediation failed Hamas found itself deserting the resistance bloc. Relations with Iran subsequently cooled down, though Hamas’ office in Tehran continues to operate. Visits by Hamas officials to the Iranian capital did not stop, though they have become fewer over time.

Islamic Jihad distanced itself from the Syrian crisis, calling on all parties to solve their problems through dialogue. Islamic Jihad’s officials, despite there not being a consensus on the situation in Syria, agreed that the resistance is their priority and that they do not want to meddle in the Syrian crisis. Shallah is univocal when it comes to Iran. A famous incident between him and Meshaal took place in Cairo amid the 2012 war in the Gaza Strip, when Shallah thanked Iran and Meshaal was hesitant to, a senior Arab journalist who met both men said. Shallah warned Meshaal that he has to thank Iran for providing support or else he would not talk.

Back in Tehran, Rajoub’s visit was not for pleasure; according to well-informed sources, he came to Tehran to tell the Iranians that Fatah is ready to be their strong partner in Palestine. The source, another Palestinian official, stressed in an interview with Al-Monitor that Fatah does not mind to be by Iran’s side along with other Palestinian factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as a real partner and not a substitute for any other faction. What was also heard backstage was that Fatah received a positive message from Hamas, but there were no confirmations whether the message was conveyed by the Iranians.

In an interview with Al-Monitor on Feb. 8, Rajoub said clearly that all options are on the table, calling the Palestinian faction “to come and agree on a resistance strategy — a strategy that adheres to the state, to the international community, and a resistance that all our people can embrace and take part in, [one that] the whole region can back and support.”

A few days after Rajoub’s departure, an Islamic Jihad delegation arrived in Tehran, and Al-Monitor’s Asmaa al-Ghoul elaborated on the visit. The delegation headed by Shallah, who visits Tehran frequently, met Iranian officials and discussed the Palestinian internal crisis with them.

A senior Iranian official told Al-Monitor that Iran is starting a new strategy in Palestine, similar to the one before but different in other ways. “Before, Iran had two or three allies. Iran today wants all the Palestinian factions to be its allies, despite the fact they’re secularists or Islamists. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the Palestinian cause should return to be the main cause people are concentrating on.”

The official stated that what happened in 2007 — when Hamas ousted Fatah in the Gaza Strip — will not be repeated, “Hamas is part of our bloc. They may have made some calculations that were incorrect, but that doesn’t have to do with the resistance and our full support.” He added, “When Mr. Rajoub was here we told him clearly that Iran sees the negotiations with Israel as a complete waste of time because of the Israeli arrogance, the negative role of the United States and the Arab states’ decision to not provide support. Neither the two-state solution will bear fruits nor any other solution. The one and only solution is resistance, and Iran is ready to continue providing support and more, and they can bet on us.”

More from Ali Hashem (Iran Pulse)