The US Treasury Department last week imposed more sanctions on Iran to limit Tehran's ability to finance hostile activities in the region and fund terrorism. The sanctions now apply to more than 700 Iranian individuals, entities, vessels and aircraft.
Local, regional and international parties immediately reacted. Palestinians rushed to express their fear of the sanctions' impact. Hamas condemned the sanctions in a Nov. 5 statement, charging they aim to destabilize the region. The movement said the United States is favoring Israel at the expense of the Palestinian cause, and Hamas leaders stressed their solidarity with Iran to counter what they called Zionist-US arrogance.
That same day, the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said US leaders were “acting like thugs" by imposing the sanctions. It said the action reinforces Palestinians' belief that Washington is wreaking havoc in the world without interference and must be confronted. Also, the Alliance of Palestinian Forces said the sanctions will not undermine Iran's will and wise leadership.
The next day, the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of armed Palestinian groups, called the sanctions a US punishment for Iran’s support of the Palestinian resistance.
Khaled Kaddoumi, a Hamas representative in Iran, told Al-Monitor, “Our position on the sanctions on Iran is not about its support for us. Our relationship with Iran has been defined in many stages. It is not about its financial support or lack thereof. Our joint strategy is to confront Israel, our enemy.”
Kaddoumi added, “Iran has not stopped supporting the Palestinian cause. Recently, [Iran stood by] the marches of return in Gaza."
In June, Iran gave a $500 grant to each of the 190 families who have lost someone in the marches of return protests, which began in March on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. In addition, more than 20,000 injured people were given $250 each.
But Kaddoumi said the relationship between Hamas and Iran "has surpassed the issue of financial support today and has turned into a strategic partnership for the fate of both.”
Iran has been increasingly supportive of Palestinians in recent months, both politically and financially. In July, Tehran held a video conference with Palestinian factions in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to stress Iran's support for the Palestinian cause in confronting the US administration's pending peace plan, which the groups' believe favors Israel. During the conference, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Gholamhossein Gheybparvar delivered a speech praising the Palestinian resistance factions in general.
In May, Iran’s Imdad Committee for Islamic Charity set up a breakfast in the Gaza Strip for thousands of Palestinians and provided 300,000 meals throughout the month of Ramadan. In April, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh and expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people, emphasizing Iran's support for the resistance. According to Gadi Eizenkot, chief of staff of the Israeli army, Iran supports Hamas and the Islamic Jihad with $100 million annually.
As opposed to the factions in the Gaza Strip, however, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank apparently has a different stance.
A source close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The US sanctions on Iran are their business. It doesn't concern us Palestinians, and we don't see the need to express a position on every event in the region, especially if it has nothing to do with us. We have enough on our plate and we don't want any new battles with any party whatsoever."
While the PA was quick to express its support for Riyadh when many countries recently accused Saudi Arabia of killing Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, Hamas remained silent. Today, as Hamas declares its solidarity with Iran against US sanctions, it is radio silence on the PA’s part.
Abdul Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at An-Najah University in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor he believes the sanctions will affect Iranian support for Palestinian organizations.
"One of the reasons for these sanctions is Iran's support of the Palestinians," he said. "Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are concerned about the impact of sanctions on Iran's ability to continue supporting them.” Both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are designated as terrorist groups by many countries, including the United States and Israel.
Qassem added, “Iran could possibly push the Palestinian organizations to harass Israel in an attempt to export its internal crisis because of the sanctions.”
Israel is keeping an eye on the reaction of Palestinian factions sponsored by Iran, which can reach Israel with their missiles.
Kayed al-Ghoul, a member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told Al-Monitor, "The sanctions are based on an attempt to stop Iran's support for the Palestinian people. The sanctions could affect the amount of support Iran provides to Palestinians, but the support would never cease to exist, nor will the sanctions force Iran to change its stance on the resistance.”
Ghoul added, “This resistance is not a tool in Iran’s hands. It has built a relationship with Iran and joined forces with it to confront the Israeli occupation.”
But according to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, Hamas is just that: an Iranian tool. He criticized Hamas' solidarity with Iran over the sanctions, saying Hamas isn't taking into account Arab concerns about Tehran's "regional interventions."
In a tweeted response, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rebuffed the UAE for its positive relationship with Israel.
Saber Anbari, an Iranian researcher from Tehran, told Al-Monitor he believes the sanctions will move Iran even closer to Hamas and the other factions.
“The positions the Palestinian organizations have expressed against the sanctions are not only due to their fear of no longer having Iran's support. They are its allies and they stand beside it in this ordeal. Their positions are in line with the strategy of ‘uniting fronts’ between Tehran and the Palestinians," Anbari added.
“Iran responds to the sanctions by strengthening its relationship with Palestinians and increasing support, as it needs to reinforce its foreign relations to confront the US and Israeli escalation."
These Palestinian forces' decisions to side with Iran raise many questions about whether the organizations will show support merely in the media and the political arena, or if they will end up taking action on the ground.
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