Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the top members of the Hamas leadership is reported by the Iranian press to push for the resumption of relations between the Palestinian organization and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Zahar reportedly stated that while the recent reshuffling of leadership inside the organization has “no impact on [Hamas] policy toward Israel,” he advocated that Hamas look to “resume its ties to all Arab countries that have been impacted by instability unleashed by the Arab revolutions and as soon as stability returns.”
Comment: Zahar’s reference to calm returning to Syria echoes the official line of the Iranian regime that since the fall of Aleppo in December 2016 has been hyping the end of the Syrian war in favor of Tehran’s client, Assad. Among Hamas leaders Zahar has been securing many Iranian media headlines in recent months. Most noticeably, he was quoted in December as having stated that “Iran is the true friend of the Palestinians, which provides arms and money.”
The elevation of Zahar also needs to be seen in the context of the bitter and public fallout Tehran had with another top Hamas figure, Khaled Mashal. Mashal’s decision to relocate from Damascus to Doha, Qatar, following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and his subsequent statements that “Iran is not any longer the key supporter” of the Palestinians irked the Iranians so much that he is reportedly no longer able to travel to Tehran. Mashal’s decision to rebuff Iran as publicly as he did was not only humiliating for Tehran but also showed the extent of Palestinian reservations about Iran’s agenda for the Palestinians.