Hamas has maintained ties with several regional powers and organisations in the Middle East since its creation in 1987. Whether it comes to financing, military aid or ideological support, the Palestinian Islamist movement can count on several regional allies in its deadly fight with Israel.
After Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel on October 7, the countries and organisations that support the Palestinian Islamist movement are under scrutiny. Algeria, Iran, Sudan and Tunisia have openly expressed support for Hamas in recent days. Classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States, the European Union and Israel, Hamas has established strong links with several regional powers since its creation in 1987.
Whether from Doha, Tehran or Ankara, support for Hamas comes in various forms: economic, military and ideological. FRANCE 24 examines the movement’s links with several foreign states.
Qatar’s financial and political ties to Hamas
Doha appears to be a financial backer for Hamas. “Their financial support of $30 million per month is proven and public,” said Didier Billion, deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS). “These payments are justified to pay civil servants in Gaza, and we know perfectly well that the latter are members of Hamas. Doha’s money is therefore the equivalent of direct support for this organisation which has held the Palestinian enclave with an iron fist for many years.”
The financial support began five years ago to avoid “a major humanitarian crisis in Gaza”, as the French newspaper Libération reported in 2018. The first payment of $15 million arrived in three large suitcases brought into Gaza through the Israeli border crossing at Erez, in the north of the enclave. Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, also known as the unofficial intermediary between the Gaza Strip, Doha and Israel, delivered the cash.
These cash transfers took place with the approval of the Israelis and the international community, reported The Times of Israel on October 8. According to the news site, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group”. Furthermore, “most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset”.
Qatar’s links with Hamas are not only financial but also political. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has resided mostly in Doha since 2012, and the political bureau of the Islamist movement is located in the Qatari capital. The small emirate’s “dangerous game” does not end there, said Myriam Benraad, Middle East expert and professor of international relations at the Schiller International University. “In addition to hosting certain prominent leaders of Hamas’s political branch, Doha also immediately positioned itself as a negotiator on the issue of Israeli hostages in recent days. This indirectly boosts the role of the small Gulf monarchy.”
The international community is also well aware of Qatar’s influence on Hamas. Germany, for example, on Thursday called on Qatar to play “an important role” for the release of the hostages, “because they have communication channels that we don’t have”.
Right of reply
Following publication of this article, the person in charge of Qatar’s press relations in France asked that we provide this clarification: “Qatar is not a financial backer of Hamas. It provides aid to Gaza, and the destination of the money is crystal clear.” “Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip is fully coordinated with Israel, the United Nations and the United States, and provided in coordination with Israel and the United Nations. Qatari aid provides $100 to the poorest Palestinian families to pay for food and basic medicines, and extends electricity for a period of one day in Gaza. Its aim is to help maintain stability and quality of life for Palestinian families in Gaza.”
Iran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’
Iran, one of the regional powers in the Middle East, also maintains close ties with Hamas. There are “two levels” in the relationship between Tehran and the Islamist movement, according to Billion. “On a public level, Iran supports the Palestinian national cause, with marked support for Hamas.” In effect, Iran forms – along with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement and the Lebanese group Hezbollah – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” against Israel. This is one of the fundamental components of Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East.
“The second level is not public: It is either financial or logistical aid from the Revolutionary Guards,” said Billion. Haniyeh revealed in an early 2022 interview with Al Jazeera that Iran paid a total of $70 million to the Palestinian group. Tehran more generally finances all Palestinian armed groups to the tune of $100 million per year, according to a report by the US State Department published in 2020.
“Military support is provided through the transfer of Iranian technology,” said Wassim Nasr, a FRANCE 24 journalist specialized in jihadist movements. “This consists of providing expertise in producing drones and modifying civilian drones into military drones. But it can also mean delivering munitions and weapons that pass through the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.”
The nature of the ties between Hamas and Iran has led certain international news sources to point out Tehran’s responsibility for the October 7 attack. The Wall Street Journal in an article on October 8 claimed that “Iran helped plot an attack on Israel over several weeks”. The Iranian regime, for its part, denied any involvement in the attack and spoke of “false rumours”.
“It is too early to establish all the responsibilities for this attack,” said Benraad, adding the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, the name Hamas gave its offensive, could increase tensions in the region. “Iran has indirectly confronted Israel for many years, and the Hamas attack will reinforce this pattern.”
Turkey gives ‘rhetorical support’
“A few NGOs provide humanitarian aid” in Gaza, but Ankara provides “mostly rhetorical support” to Hamas, said Nasr. Turkey has a long-standing tradition of supporting the Palestinian cause. Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reiterated his support last July when he said, “establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital within the 1967 borders based on UN parameters is essential for the peace and stability of our entire region”.
Compared to Qatar and Iran, Turkey’s support is more “political” than financial or military, said Billion. Furthermore, the Turkish government has not only maintained ties with Hamas, but also with the Palestinian Authority, with Erdogan welcoming the leaders of both to Ankara last July.
Yet, “Turkey has repeatedly rolled out the red carpet for Hamas in recent years,” said the deputy director of IRIS. The occasional visits to Ankara by Haniyeh, who is living in voluntary exile between Qatar and Turkey, are also a factor.
After the October 7 attack, Ankara tried to act as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Erdogan first called on Israel and Hamas to “support peace”, then condemned the “shameful methods” of Israel as part of its military response towards the Gaza Strip. An official source told AFP and Reuters on October 11 that Turkey was carrying out negotiations aimed at securing the release of civilians kidnapped during the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation.
Egyptian roots, troubled ties
The links between Egypt and Hamas are historical – the Palestinian movement is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organisation founded in Egypt in 1928. These ties weakened in 2013 when the Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in a coup against democratically elected Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the recent past, Hamas took advantage of tunnels bypassing the Egyptian border towards Gaza, illegally importing necessities, construction materials and even weapons. The Egyptian authorities later closed most of the tunnels. Cairo slightly changed its position beginning in 2018 by allowing some commercial goods into Gaza. Hamas collected more than $12 million in taxes per month in 2021 on these goods, according to US think tank Council on Foreign Relations.
After the Hamas attack on Ocotber 7, Cairo positioned itself as a mediator in the conflict, like Ankara. Egypt, the first Arab country to recognise the existence of Israel in 1979, is also the only opening to the world for Gaza, via the Rafah border post located in the south of the Palestinian enclave.