Hamas is Not Iran's Puppet

New America Media, Commentary, William O. Beeman Posted: Dec 31, 2008

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 humanitarian assistance.

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 an interview 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 virtually impossible.

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.

Related Articles:

Happy Hardliners in Tehran?

Damascus Erupts in Protests for Gaza

Obama's Iranian Opening

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User Comments

Dragutin Dimitrijevic on Jan 10, 2009 at 15:23:26 said:

Here is an overview of artillery rockets manufactured in Iran (add ht tp etc):


The Iranian equivalent of the oft mentioned `Grad` (Russian BM-21) is called the `Arash` and it`s manufactured in two versions. The Arash is nine to ten feet long, weighs approximately 150 lbs and has a range of 20 km. Hamas has launched missiles that distance into Israel. It is plausible that ordnance of that size could be transported through tunnel systems from Egypt into Gaza. However I would interested in how (and how many? Ten? One hundred?) weapons of that size could be shipped into Egyptian waters, smuggled past Egyptian border control then transported and manhandled through tunnels to the Gaza side of the border without detection. It`s feasible that Hamas may have managed to safely offload a few into Egypt then moved them underground into Gaza but their sheer physical size and weight leads me to suggest that the numbers would be relatively few. Rockets are not furniture or sacks of flour of course, they must be handled with relative care in order not to damage the integrity of the weapon as a whole. That would be a challenging task in a man sized tunnel.

On the other hand the lightweight and short-range Qassams are domestically produced in Gaza. Smuggling explosives and components into Gaza from Egypt for Qassam production would seem an easier task, but explosives and components for Qassams have not been shown to have originated in Iran.

Ali on Jan 07, 2009 at 07:24:13 said:

Mr Beeman , Islamic Republic is the decision maker for Hamas and Hezbolah ,IR has created Hezboulah ,all expenses is taken care by IR,
Hamas is receiving traning and material support from IR through the tunnels , and through recruits among Plastinan abroad ,it seems that you are not aware of the extension of the IR plans ,

Rawnaq Khodaai on Jan 05, 2009 at 22:31:42 said:

****Israel is responsible for breaking the 6 month truce with Hamas****
CNN's Rick Sanches busts the Israeli PR campaign

The date Israel broke the truce agreement was November 4th, when it killed five Palestinians fighters. On November 5th, another Israeli attack killed seven Palestinian fighters while on November 6th, yet again the Israeli army killed a Palestinian farmer. All of the Israeli killinigs were carried out in the Gaza Strip and on November 5th, the military wing of Hamas declared the truce to have been broken and thus no longer is held responsible for its articles.

Hamas was democratically elected by the people of Gaza (in Palestine). Hamas fired the rockets to protest the Israeli blockade on Gaza which was imposed by Israel even during the truce. Under an Israeli-style truce, Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonize their land.

As John Ging, the head of operations of the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), told The Electronic Intifada in November: "there was five months of a ceasefire in the last couple of months, where the people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence. We in fact at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food."

There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank (in Palestine), and yet Israel's attacks, killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never ceased in the West Bank for one single day during the truce. To get cured from the disease spread by mainstream media, watch the documentary titled: "Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: Media & the Israel-Palestine Conflict" on video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6604775898578139565

To know the true Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict go to ifamericansknew.org/history/origin.html Published by Jews for Justice in the Middle East

The Palestinian people have not fought with their soul and blood for last 60 years for everything to come to nothing. History has shown that all people who resisted like the Palestinians have in the end liberated their land from colonizers.

William Beeman on Jan 04, 2009 at 14:18:11 said:

Commentators on this article again fail to understand that the tunnels must pass through Egypt. So how are arms being transfered from Iran except through Egyptian territory, which utterly opposes them. John McFarlin provides no evidence whatever in stating "There is no reason to doubt that Iran is supplying arms and expertise to Hamas." If indeed there is no reason to doubt this, then where is the proof? No one has supplied one scintilla of evidence that this is taking place. It is once again neoconservative and Israeli "truth by repetition."

John McFarlin on Jan 02, 2009 at 12:50:46 said:

The Arab 'end game' is unlikely to be a desire for Iranian hegemony of the Arab world, but Arab nationalists (Hama's, Hezbollah, and other cruel, fascist organizations), are willing to take that risk. There is no reason to doubt that Iran is supplying arms and expertise to Hamas, contrary to William O. Beeman's apologetic explanation of the Middle-east situation.

The situation in Gaza is not a matter of whether or not Israel has clean hands. And there is no significance in who is the aggressor, as in Hamas fired rockets versus Israel used over powering force. The situation is part of a continuing confrontation and it will continue in one form or another for the foreseeable future.

American participation in Middle-eastern politics and projection of military force represents a century of Western control (management) of oil and trade, something that is important to every American. With the exception of Bush's ill advised decision to put boots on the ground, the US managed the situation(s)since the end of WW II in Syria, Arabia, Iraq at the margins with money, coersion, and diplomacy. I've never figured out how Israel benefits our overall goals for Middle-eastern compliance with Western political goals; hopefully the British had some reason for plowing ahead with Zionism at the beginning of the last century. At any rate, we have Israel and there is no denying its existence. Arab nationalism needs to come to terms with this fact. I hope that acceptance of Israel is possible, but I doubt that such an incipient and diffuse religious and nationalist project as Arab nationalism can see beyond the horizon.

dm on Jan 02, 2009 at 06:58:42 said:

No iranian arms smuggled into Gaza through Rafah? Huh? So the "weapon" tunnels are propaganda? Whoa...

Phil Lauriat on Jan 01, 2009 at 19:45:53 said:

Thanks, Bill, for this analysis. It is good to get a levelheaded view of this mess, not the rantings of those, like HB above, who believe everything Fox News tells them.

Henry Bothwell on Jan 01, 2009 at 05:25:33 said:

how do you explain the tunnels on the egyptian border or why iran is recruiting fighters to go help hamas....iran is the major sponser of hamas and hezzbollah...as far as iran\'s nuclear ambitions..think what you want...but there will come a day soon when f-16s from israel and possibly american f-22s will put a big gaping hole in any of those plans...and while i\'m talking about the region...it will be another fine day when someone,hopefully our finest force in the world,will pound the crap out of the taliban and al quieda in afghanistan and pakistan...if people in the middle east complain about aggression and want peace,they better start teaching their children to except peaceful terms...the west controls the world in this era of human history,as for you mustapha..you will recall that your beloved palistinians started the shelling not israel..better watch out when you pick on someone bigger than you,you are concerned about the poor gazan children,then tell hamas not to put their military hardware near them and by the way ..what about the israeli kids,you have nothing to say about the missles and mortars raining down on them and their schools,or the \"sick in the head from propaganda\" suicide bombers killing themselves and israeli kids...here in the USA we look at you and see a bunch of violent people who can think of nothing but fighting..and when israel kicks your butt all over the place again,i will be kicking back having a beer watching it on a new flat screen tv in my leather couch..so talk all you want. H.B. Florida,USA

Mustapha Lecheheb on Dec 31, 2008 at 23:17:14 said:

this is a first analysis that i have read, and i confirm that it is more realistic than any other written report; ofcourse if we try to discuss it objectively.so i say to Mr. William O. Beeman: thank so much for being neutral to this dangerous massacre in Palistine(Ghaza).




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