Skip to content

On the origins and development of Hamas

Joseph Daher explores how internationalists who support the self-determination of Palestinians should understand Hamas as historically a conservative force while maintaining solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Hamas has been widely condemned since its attacks on October 7, 2023, which led to the death of more than 1,100 persons. Tempest has published several entries into a debate over Hamas’ tactics. But many important questions remain to be addressed. Where did this party come from? How did it develop? What is the political orientation and strategy of Hamas? What are its regional alliances? Daher explains that Hamas does not look to the Palestinian masses and the regional working classes and oppressed peoples as the forces to win liberation. Instead, it seeks political alliances with the region’s ruling classes and their regimes to support their political and military battles against Israel. But the conservative nature of Hamas should not prevent the Left locally and internationally from supporting the Palestinian struggle against a colonial and racist apartheid regime supported by Western imperialism.

The Israeli occupation army is waging a genocidal war against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. The 2.4 million inhabitants of Gaza live under constant Israeli bombardment and face unprecedented violence. More than twenty thousand people have been killed by Israeli strikes since October 7, 2023. More than 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced within the Gaza Strip, representing over 85 percent of its total population. This in many ways represents a new Nakba (“catastrophe”), following the first in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven by force from their homes and became refugees.

Hamas has been widely condemned since its attacks on October 7, 2023, leading to the death of 1,139 persons, including 695 Israeli civilians, 373 members of the security forces and 71 foreigners. But many important questions have been overlooked. Where did this party come from? How did it develop? What is the political orientation and strategy of Hamas? What are its regional alliances?

Before discussing the nature of Hamas and developing a critical perspective on this Palestinian Islamic party, we need to clarify certain political positions. First, Israel has always been a settler-colonial project, and therefore has worked to establish, maintain, and expand its territory, seeking to forcefully displace Palestinians from their land. Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also characterized the Israeli state as an apartheid regime. Second, throughout its history, the Zionist movement and then the Israeli state allied with, and found sponsorship from, imperialist powers, first with the British empire and then the United States. The current genocide in Gaza is taking place with the active support of all the Western imperialist powers, from the United States to the European Union. Without exception, these states support Israel’s murderous propaganda that any actions against the Palestinian people are justified because of “Israel’s right to defend itself.” This means that Palestinians are not struggling only against the Israeli state, but also the whole Western imperial system.

In this context, supporters of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and emancipation must reiterate the right of the oppressed facing an apartheid and colonial regime to resist. Indeed, like any other population facing the same threats, Palestinians have such rights, including by military means, including Hamas. Certainly, this should neither be confused with support for the political perspectives of the various Palestinian political parties nor for all military actions taken by these actors, notably the indiscriminate killing of numerous civilians on October 7.1

By contrast, the issue for the Israeli state is not the nature of the act of resistance by the Palestinians, whether peaceful or armed, or even its ideology. Rather, in the view of the Israeli ruling class, any challenge to the structures of occupation and colonization must be criminalized and suppressed. Prior to Hamas and still today, various factions of the Palestinian movement—including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to leftist organizations, to Fateh, to Palestinian progressives and democrats, and to civilians without any clear ideology—have all suffered Israeli repression. Consider, for example, how peaceful marches and rallies to the Israeli separation fence organized by youth protesters in the past few months and, prior to this, in 2018 and 2019 (known as the “Great March of Return”) were repressed violently by the Israeli occupation army, including through live fire, tear gas, and even air strikes. Many demonstrators—designated as “terrorists” despite their nonviolent protests—were killed and wounded.

More generally, the violence used by the oppressor to maintain its structures of domination and subjugation should never be equated with the violence of the oppressed attempting to restore their own dignity and assert their right to exist.

The nature of the Israeli state and its policies created the conditions for the events of October 7 and after, just like any colonial and occupying actor throughout history. It’s therefore important to situate Hamas’ assault within the historical colonial context of Palestine.

Any serious and honest criticisms of Hamas can’t be made without a clear opposition to Israeli apartheid and its nature as a racist and colonial state and clear support for the self-determination of the Palestinians and their right of resistance. The realization of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian population requires an end to occupation, an end to colonization, equality for Palestinians, and a guaranteed right of return for Palestinian refugees.

It is from that standpoint that we must begin our critique of Hamas’s political orientation and its strategy.

Origins and developments of Hamas

Hamas, the Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement,” was officially established in December 1987 at the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada. Its roots, however, go back to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which had been active in the Gaza Strip since the 1940s, and the al-Mujamma al-Islami association founded by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin in 1973 Gaza and legalized by the Israeli-occupied military administration in 1979. (Other prominent leaders were pharmacist Ibrahim al-Yazuri, Abd al-Aziz al Rantissi, and Mahmud Zahar.) Al-Mujamma al-Islami was established and acted as a front organization for MB’s activities in Gaza.

The Israeli occupation authorities had initially encouraged the development of al-Mujamma al-Islami structures throughout the Gaza Strip, particularly its social institutions and political activities. For the Israeli occupying forces, the aim was to weaken the nationalist and left-wing camp by encouraging the Islamic alternative. In addition, the MB decided to adopt a position of non-confrontation with Israeli occupying forces, focusing instead on the Islamization of Palestinian society. The choice of unarmed confrontation with the Israeli occupier was contested within the MB in the early 1980s. Out of this division emerged a new political entity, Islamic Jihad, led in Gaza by Fathi Shikaki. Shikaki was also influenced by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the ideology of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

In 1987, Hamas was born particularly because of the pressure of a section of rank-and-file youth critical of the lack of resistance to Israeli occupation. These activists argued for a more confrontational policy, in contrast to the traditional focus on the Islamization of the society. The outbreak of the Intifada in 1987 enabled these advocates to gain a stronger position. They convinced the more recalcitrant by arguing that Islamic fundamentalists would be bypassed if they refused to get involved in the Intifada.2

Tear gas rains down on a crowd of protesters in a field.
Israel attacks the Great March of Return with lethal force. Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

At the same time, the growing popularity of Islamic Jihad in its military resistance against Israeli occupation increasingly constituted a direct threat to the MB. An agreement was finally reached between the old conservative guard—which favored a nonconfrontational approach with Israel and was mostly comprised of urban, upper-middle-class merchants—and a younger generation of new leaders that supported resistance and was composed mostly of university-educated individuals from the lower middle class and largely also from the refugee camps. This led to the creation of Hamas as a separate but affiliated organization. Members of the MB who did not agree with its establishment could remain within the MB without joining Hamas.

With this formula, if the Intifada failed, Hamas resp, and not the MB, could be blamed. In reality, the exact opposite took place. Hamas’s participation in the Intifada was a great success. As a result, Hamas integrated nearly the full membership of the MB in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and most importantly started to attract followers and supporters who were not members of the Brotherhood.3

Hamas’s development was also stimulated by regional events after the oil boom after 1973, which enabled the Gulf monarchies to increase investment in Islamic fundamentalist movements, including al-Mujamma Islami in the Gaza Strip, as well as the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, which promoted an Islamic fundamentalist political orientation across the region, including through support of Hamas from the early 1990s. The consolidation of relations and future alliance between Iran and Hamas began at the time of the expulsion of hundreds of members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in South Lebanon in Marj al-Zouhour in 1992, including the current leader from the Hamas political office Ismael Haniyeh. During this period, Hamas also strengthened its ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon. On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalist movements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories also benefited from the PLO’s major setbacks, starting with Black September in Jordan in 1970, and the Jordanian regime’s violent repression of Palestinian forces, leading to their transfer to Lebanon.

Following the expulsion of PLO forces from Beirut to Tunis in 1982, the Palestinian national movement was further weakened. Its leadership, strategy, and political program were increasingly called into question. This was in addition to the growing concentration of the Fatah-led PLO on seeking a political and diplomatic solution rather than armed resistance This was in keeping with the political dynamics of the post-October 1973 war, which had opened the door to a political settlement with Israel, including the peace agreement with Egypt.

In contrast, Hamas leadership refused the PLO orientation and supported armed resistance. Hamas played a role in the First Intifada (1987–1993) and Second Intifada (2000–2005), while maintaining a strong rhetorical stance against the Oslo agreement between the PLO and Israel. Following its conclusion, the Oslo accords were widely seen as a full capitulation of the PLO to Israel’s demands. In this framework, Hamas increasingly gained popularity in the Palestinian streets. At the same time, criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) grew because of its failure to achieve any Palestinian national objectives in the face of Israel’s continuous occupation and colonization, while the PA officials in Ramallah, their base in the West Bank, were more and more accused of corruption and clientelist practices. The Palestinian population largely rejected the PA’s security collaboration with Israel.

A mass of Palestinian fighters, photographed from behind, enters a smoke-filled urban area.
The 1987 Intifada. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile, Hamas slowly transformed from a party refusing any institutional participation in the institutions inherited from Oslo, as it did in the 1990s, to political accommodation with them. Hamas officials and rulers said they changed their position only after the Oslo agreement had failed, following the Second Intifada. In the Palestinian legislative election of January 2006, running as the List of Change and Reform, Hamas won a majority of seats, obtaining 42.9 percent of the vote and 74 of 132 seats. Western powers and Israel responded by boycotting and embargoing the Hamas-led government, and suspending all foreign aid to the Occupied Territories.4Tensions between Hamas and Fatah escalated, with Hamas driving Fatah out of Gaza in June 2007, while the PA took full control of the West Bank. The West Bank and Gaza Strip remain under the authority of the PA and Hamas respectively.

Hamas has grown considerably stronger militarily since Israel’s first ground incursion in the 2008–2009 war, thanks in part to its growing links with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, particularly through the transfer of military expertise. Estimates of the number of combat ready fighters in the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, range from 15,000 and to around 40,000. The military wing has rockets that are locally manufactured, but the long-range rockets came from Iran, Syria, and Egypt. Hamas also uses numerous armed booby-traps with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Hamas manufactures a large proportion of its own weapons, and has developed drones and unmanned underwater vehicles, as well as tools for cyberwarfare.

Political programs

Hamas adopted its first Charter on August 18, 1988. The document acknowledged its affiliation with the MB and stated that Hamas “considers the land of Palestine an Islamic waqf for all generations of Muslims until the day of resurrection.” Regarding the PLO, the charter noted, “Our homeland is one, our misfortune is one, our destiny is one and our enemy is common.” Hamas’s opposition to the PLO has always been essentially political, not religious. The text of the First Charter had anti-Semitic overtones, however, with a reference to the Protocol of the Elders of Zion (an odious forgery created by the Tsarist police at the beginning of the 20th century), as well as a denunciation of the “conspiracies” of the Masonic lodges and the Rotary and Lions clubs.

The latest Hamas charter, published in 2017, featured major modifications, and represented a real attempt by the leadership of the party to express its main political orientations, in relation to the first charter of 1988 considered obsolete for many years by the main leaders of the Palestinian party. “The movement states The Islamic Resistance Movement ‘Hamas’ is a Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement,” reads the new charter. “Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project. Its frame of reference is Islam, which determines its principles, objectives and means.”

In the new charter, antisemitic content has been removed, and instead the struggle of the party is defined as one against Zionism. This is not to say that the speeches of some Hamas leaders do not use antisemitic tropes or that antisemitism is not a problem within other Palestinian organizations as well. But to better combat such antisemitism, we need to struggle against Israel’s policies, allegedly carried out in the name of the Jews. The main source of antisemitic ideas among Palestinians is the reaction to an oppressor who identifies with and pretends to speak for all Jews around the world. It is not a question of justifying antisemitism in any form, but of understanding it in order to better fight against this form of anti-Semitism, which is very different from the antisemitism of Western far-right and fascist organizations.

The new charter does not mention a connection to the MB, though Islam remains its frame of reference. At the same time, the Palestinian Islamic party proposes a political program implicitly accepting a two-state solution, in line with many statements made by Hamas officials in the past two decades regarding the party’s approval for such a political settlement, and international law.

In this context, comparison between Daesh (“Islamic State”) and Hamas, as a number of Israeli and Western pundits and politicians have done, should be totally rejected. While Hamas is rooted in Palestinian history and stands against Israeli colonization and occupation, Daesh was born out of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Daesh grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which fought both the U.S. occupation and the Shia fundamentalist regime installed by the United States and supported by Iran. It later spread to Syria as it attempted to establish an Islamic Sunni caliphate. Daesh was the outgrowth of imperialism and counterrevolution in the Middle East.

Attempts by Israel and Western governments to portray Hamas, and Palestinians more generally, as terrorists similar to jihadist organizations are not new. In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Israeli ruling class described its war against the Palestinians during the Second Intifada as its own “War on Terror.” This is despite both the PA and Hamas condemning al-Qaeda’s actions. Hamas suicide actions in Jerusalem and elsewhere within historic Palestine were presented as “being one symptom of global Islamic Terrorism,” Tareq Baconi observes in his book Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance.5

More generally, attempts by Israel and imperialists to conflate Hamas and jihadist groups such as Daesh or al-Qaeda are part of a larger strategy to increasingly rely on Islamophobia to justify their so-called War on Terror. In the early 2000s, the Bush administration defended Israel’s right to self defense against “Islamic terrorism,” just as the current US administration and Western states do today. Regardless of what we think of suicide bombings, Hamas’s actions took place in the context of opposing Israel’s occupation and colonization, not within a worldwide Islamic struggle. Hamas justified the use of suicide bombing to undermine the Oslo discussions and to foster contradictions within Israeli society, but these actions only promoted its unity and reinforced Israeli political extremism. It is also important to note that that suicide bombings were opposed by a majority of the Palestinian population.

Organizations such as Daesh and al-Qaeda have differences in their formation, development, composition, and strategy with political parties such as Hamas or Hezbollah. For example, Hamas has participated in elections and institutions inherited from the Oslo agreement, while accepting the religious diversity of Palestinian society, and has collaborated politically and militarily with leftist organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. By contrast, jihadist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Daesh generally consider participation in elections or state institutions as un-Islamic, and turn instead to guerilla or terrorist tactics in the hope of eventual seizure of the state, while attacking religious minorities and any other political parties not sharing their ideology. Moreover, there have been clashes between Hamas and Salafist jihadist groups in Gaza since Hamas gained control. Hamas military forces combatted such groups, and launched campaigns of arrests against its members perceived as security threats and to a lesser extent political rivals.

Similarly, while Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip is undemocratic, it cannot be compared with the brutality imposed by Islamic State on the populations in the regions in Iraq and Syria under its domination, including massive live decapitations and executions. Moreover, while the Palestinian population criticizes Hamas poor governance and corruption, widespread support exists for armed resistance by Palestinian actors, including Hamas, against Israeli occupation.

Class background and political economy

Similar to other Islamic fundamentalist parties, Hamas’s popular constituency is not based in one single class. Hamas’s base grew importantly in two waves, first when it joined the struggle against Israel in 1987 and pursued military resistance in the 1990s and 2000s, and second when it took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. The military resistance of Hamas, its opposition to the Oslo agreement and Israeli repressive policies, alongside its networks of social charity organizations, based on the former networks of the Muslim Brotherhoods and al-Mujamma al-Islami, and mechanism of Islamization of the society, have enabled the Palestinian Islamic movement to build a large popular constituency, mainly from the popular working classes of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories, while also maintaining links with traditional bourgeois forces such as Palestinian merchants.

The Palestinian Islamic movement has indeed historically and generally enjoyed the support and the sympathy of businessmen, landowners, merchants, and shopkeepers.6Hamas, and before it the MB in the OPT, has generally included merchants, business people, and sections of the wealthy Palestinians.The Palestinian analyst Khaled Hroub argues that these latter have always been looked on with respect and admiration because of their continuous donations to the movement.7At the end of the 2000s and beginning of the 2010s, Hamas was able to nurture a new generation of businessmen in Gaza who were linked to the party through the expansion of the tunnel system, while weakening the older generation of traditional businessmen, often connected to the PA.

The social background of the leadership in the Gaza Strip, predominantly composed historically of people from petty bourgeois and lower-middle-class origins, was more conducive to its spread than the West Bank leadership, which was mostly from a wealthier social background among the bourgeoisie and traditional elite.

One key feature of Hamas, is that a large majority of its leadership and cadre have high levels of education and tend to come from liberal professional layers. There may also be a certain “petty bourgeois” mentality among many Hamas’s employees, particularly the ones in leading positions in the administration of the Gaza strip, are largely from a proletarian background, even if the vast majority of them are from proletarian origin, by becoming salaried cadres. This dynamic is, however, greatly reduced by the political and social reality of Gaza characterized by a murderous siege and continuous wars by the Israeli occupying army, maintaining a relatively important link between local Hamas cadres and the Palestinian working classes.

Contrary to other Islamic fundamentalist movements in the region, it is important to notice that the process of bourgeoisification of Hamas leadership has been more limited, however. This is connected to the limitations to significant capitalist development in the Occupied Territories and more particularly in the Gaza strip since the imposition of the Israeli siege of Gaza in 2005, as well as the de-development policies imposed by Israeli occupation authorities.

Israel has pursued a policy to limit any form of indigenous economic and institutional development that could contribute to structural reform and capital accumulation, particularly in the industrial domain. Israel hindered the Palestinians from developing any local industries that could possibly compete with Israeli industries, increasing and maintaining the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israeli imports. The large Palestinian conglomerates dominating the Palestinian economy in the West Bank are mostly based in the Gulf. The PA’s economic strategy has been to strengthen these conglomerates, thus widening inequality levels in Palestinian society.

Hamas was also able to build a new merchant class connected to the party from the end of the 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s with the massive expansion of the tunnel network. The Gaza Strip witnessed an “economic boom,” according to a September 2011 World Bank report. GDP growth reached 28 percent in the first six months of 2011. The labor market in the first half of 2011 was characterized by relatively significant growth in employment. The broad unemployment rate actually declined to 32.9 percent in mid-2011, from 45.2 percent in the second half of 2010, according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Total employment grew by 21 percent in a year-on-year comparison, with about 41,270 more people working and with refugees accounting for about half this growth.

Most of the tunnels were funded by private investors, mostly Hamas members, who partnered with families straddling the border. An International Labor Organization report cited the emergence of 600 “tunnel millionaires,” many of them seeking somewhere to park their profits, who invested first in land and then in hundreds of luxury apartment buildings. The Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, established oversight over much of the tunnel network, taking over from a disparate network of clans and other political parties.

Similar to the other movements connected to the MB, Hamas supports an economy based on capitalism and the free market. Hamas subscribes to the common belief within Islamic fundamentalist movements that the Islamic religion promotes free enterprise and enshrines the right to private property.8In a 2012 interview, Ali Baraka, Hamas representative in Lebanon, told me that Hamas opposes a socialist economy because it is against the individual and entrepreneurial rights of the people. Hamas’ sources of funding also help explain its lack of opposition to capitalism and its rather conservative economic program.

Authoritarianism and Hala Islamya

Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip since 2007 has been marked by the murderous siege imposed by the Israeli occupation army on this territory since 2005, with the assistance of the Egyptian regime and the repressive policies of the PA in the West Bank, particularly against the members, organizations and institutions of Hamas or linked to the latter, but not only, and regional political developments, etc. These elements have of course influenced Hamas’ policy in Gaza, which has been marked by authoritarianism and repression since 2007.

In 2022, the human rights organization Amnesty International reported that “in the Gaza Strip, a general climate of repression, following a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests against the rising costs of living in 2019, effectively deterred dissent, often leading to self-censorship.” In July 2023, Hamas security forces again repressed Gazans protesting chronic power outages and the harsh living conditions, as well as its poor governance, corruption, and authoritarianism. Other Palestinian organizations have similarly condemned violations of human rights committed by Hamas, including arbitrary detention, torture, punishment, and beatings. Hamas also stands accused of harassing journalists who criticize its government. Public political protest has often been suppressed. This authoritarian environment is reflected in various polls carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Survey, in which large sectors of the Palestinian population based in Gaza declared that they could not criticize the Hamas authorities without fear, with rates reaching 67.9 percent in 2014 and 59 percent in 2023.

At the same time, Hamas pursued a policy strengthening a conservative Islamic rule accompanied by a greater policy of Islamization of Gazan society through its control of public administration and organizations connected to the movement.

The diffusion of Hamas’s ideology via its institutions and network of organizations facilitates the continuation and the reproduction of its power over large sectors of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. Since the late 1980s, al-Mujamma Islami and Hamas have played an important role in the imposition of social conservative norms by various forms of coercion. Hamas, for example, led campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s to impose the Islamic veil on women, both through propagandistic and violent measures, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Against violent attempts to impose the hijab on women, they had little, if any, support from the national leaders of the Intifada, including nationalist and left-wing groups, who did confront the veiling campaign during this period and to a certain extent participated in it, like Fatah, in an attempt to demonstrate that they were no less moral than Hamas. Hamas has also launched campaigns to close cinemas and restaurants selling alcohol.9

Hamas’s attitude towards women has evolved since its creation by granting them more space within the party, but always from a conservative Islamic perspective. While Hamas encourages women to pursue higher education and participate more in public life, particularly within the activities of the party and its institutions in Gaza,10this must be done while respecting Islamic norms, including gender segregation, while promoting mostly jobs that are considered an extension of women’s reproductive roles, such as teaching and nursing.More generally, Hamas, like other Islamic fundamentalist movements, promotes a patriarchal vision that endorses male domination and restricts women to subordinate roles in society. First and foremost, Hamas defines women’s primary function as “motherhood”—and, in particular, inculcating the next generation with Islamic principles. In March 2021, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Hamas praised the role of the Palestinian women as mothers and wives in maintaining social cohesion by protecting the family, the basic building block of society and the source of its stability.

In 2006, Hamas’s political program for the legislative elections said that women should be shielded with Islamic education, to guarantee that their “independent personality” is based on “chastity, decency and observance.”11

It is certain that Hamas is not the only actor in the region to promote a patriarchal vision of society reinforcing male domination and a restriction of women to subordinate roles in society, the Palestinian Islamic organization has however strengthened and deepened these dynamics in Gaza. Hamas has increasingly encouraged and enforced a conservative moral code expressed in campaigns and practices to promote veiling, gender segregation, and a gender division of labor. Since April 2013, Hamas’s government has imposed gender segregation at all Gaza schools for students above the age of nine, under the pretext of protecting Gaza’s Islamic identity. Hamas authorities have in various cases imposed particular clothing restrictions and behavior guidelines intended to preserve women’s honor and that of the family, such as an Islamic dress code on female lawyers and high school students, while an Islamic court in the Gaza Strip ruled that women require the permission of a male guardian to travel.

Some internet cafes have been closed “to protect moral values” and prevent men and women from interacting. The Ministry of the Interior has launched intimidation campaigns to forbid male hairdressers from cutting women’s hair or working with women hairdressers, and those not respecting this rule were the targets of attacks.

This provoked resistance within Palestinian society, but for Hamas, like other regional Islamic fundamentalist movements, the Islamic model is considered to be the only correct path for women. Otherwise they are considered to be alien to their own society and under the influence of Western cultural imperialism.

Strategy and regional alliances

In terms of regional political alliances, Hamas leaders have cultivated alliances with Qatar and Turkey12in recent years, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is its main political, financial, and military supporter. Iran’s yearly assistance to the party has been estimated to be around $75 million.

At the same time, Hamas has been attempting to improve its relations with other Gulf monarchies, more particularly the Saudi Kingdom, but with more difficulty. In the beginning of 2021, following the reconciliation between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud’s and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to resolve the Gulf crisis and achieve reconciliation.

More generally, Hamas observed with growing concern the conclusion of the US-brokered Abraham Accords in the summer of 2020, and the further normalization of Israel with Arab states, as well as the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel. In March 2022, Israeli president Isaac Herzog was the first high-profile Israeli official to visit Turkey since 2008. This has only strengthened Hamas’s crucial alliance with Iran—and therefore Hezbollah. Its relations with Teheran have continued to provide Hamas with military assistance including weapons and training, in addition to important financial funding. (Iran had diminished its assistance to Hamas after the eruption of the uprising in Syria and the Palestinian’s movement refusal to support the Syrian regime’s murderous repression against Syrian protesters. Researcher Leila Seurat estimated that Iran reduced its economic aid in 2013 to Hamas by half, from $150 million to less than $75 million per year.)

One of the main objectives of Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 was to undermine the process of normalization initiated by President Donald Trump and continued by President Joe Biden, ensuring that the occupation could not be ignored on the road to smoothing out formerly hostile relations within the region. Soon after the Israeli war against the Gaza Strip erupted, Saudi Arabia responded by halting all progress on bilateral agreements between itself and Israel.

Biden and Netanyahu. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The leadership changes within Hamas’s political movement have also had an impact on its regional alliances. While the relationship has certainly been maintained on a political and military level over the last decade (despite disagreements on the Syrian uprising), the replacement of Khaled Meshaal with Ismael Haniya as Hamas’s leader in 2017 opened the door to closer relations between Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Moreover, the nomination of Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri—one of the founders of Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades—as deputy head of the group’s political bureau also facilitated this development. As did the election of Yahya Sinwar, another founding member of the al-Qassam Brigades, as leader of the movement in Gaza. This is because the military wing has always maintained close ties with Iran, unlike the movement’s political bureau under the leadership of Meshaal. In fact, al-Qassam Brigades’s leadership opposed Meshaal’s attempts during his rule to steer Hamas away from Iran and Hezbollah in favor of improved relations with Turkey, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia.

More recently, Hamas officials have multiplied their visits to Teheran to meet with the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Qasem Soleimani, while repeatedly praising Iran’s assistance in the media. They declared at several occasions that the group had succeeded in significantly developing its military capabilities because Iran had provided them with significant funding, equipment, and expertise.

The renewed and deepened relations with Iran have not come without criticism in the Gaza Strip and even among Hamas’s base, however. A picture of the late Iranian Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani that was posted on a billboard in Gaza City was vandalized and torn down just days before the first anniversary of his death. Soleimani’s assassination by a U.S. strike in Baghdad in 2020 was heavily condemned by Hamas, and Haniyeh even traveled to Tehran to attend his funeral. The instigator of the action, Majdi al-Maghribi, accused Soleimani of being a criminal. Several other Soleimani banners were also taken down and vandalized, with one video showing an individual describing him as the “killer of Syrians and Iraqis.”

Similarly, the restoration of ties between the Syrian regime and Hamas in mid-2022 should be seen as Teheran’s attempt to consolidate its influence in the region and rehabilitate relations with two allies. That said, any evolution in the relations between Syria and the Palestinian movement will not mean a return to the pre-2011 setup, when Hamas leaders enjoyed the privilege of major support from the Syrian regime. Officials in Syria will most likely lessen their public criticism of Hamas in consideration of their alliance with Iran, but not restore any form of strategic military and political support, at least in the short term. Future connections between the Syrian regime and Hamas are therefore very much governed by interests structured and connected to Iran and Hezbollah. Moreover, the “reconciliation” reflects a more general problem in the political strategy of the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation.

Hamas, however, is not a simple puppet of Iran. It has its own autonomy in relation to Tehran, as these disagreements on the Syrian uprising or Bahrain.13have demonstrated in the past.


Hamas has been able to position itself once again as the leading actor on the Palestinian political scene, further marginalizing the already weak PA. The latest polls conducted in the Occupied Territories demonstrate the rising popularity of Hamas and continuous weakening of support for the PA. In addition, the issue of Palestine and the need to deal with it politically are now back both on the Israeli and regional agendas.

This said, we should be clear: Hamas—just like other Palestinian political parties, from Fatah to the Palestinian left—does not look to the Palestinian masses and the regional working classes and oppressed peoples as the forces to win liberation. Instead, they seek political alliances with the region’s ruling classes and their regimes to support their political and military battles against Israel.

Hamas leaders have cultivated alliances with monarchies in Gulf states, especially Qatar more recently, Turkey, and the Iranian regime. Rather than advance the struggle, these regimes restrict their support for the cause to areas where it advances their regional interests and betray it when it doesn’t. The reluctance of Iran and Hezbollah to react and launch a more intense military response to the Israeli war of October 2023 against the Palestinians in order to preserve their own political and geopolitical interests demonstrates this.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly reiterated their willingness to extend the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the entire region. Rather than a full-scale military engagement of Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel, they prefer that Hezbollah serve as a “pressure front” against Tel Aviv, as expressed by the secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. Iran does not want its crown jewel, Hezbollah, to be weakened. Iran’s geopolitical objective is not to liberate the Palestinians but to use these groups as leverage, particularly in its relations with the United States.

The conservative nature of Hamas, however, should not prevent the Left locally and internationally from supporting the Palestinian struggle against a colonial and racist apartheid regime supported by Western imperialism. To say we should support only communist-led or leftist-led resistance would be a grave mistake and demonstrate a profound lack of internationalism. This is in fact an old ultraleft position on the national question, which Lenin strongly criticized. We should support legitimate struggle against foreign occupation regardless of the nature of its leadership. Likewise, we do not condemn Palestinians seeking weapons from authoritarian states.

It is important to repeat our support for the right to resistance of the Palestinian people, including armed resistance, while not confusing this principled position with support for the political perspectives of the political groups that lead them, including as explained in this article Hamas, which is far from a companion of the Left.
Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons; modified by Tempest.

We want to hear what you think. Contact us at
And if you've enjoyed what you've read, please consider donating to support our work:


Joseph Daher View All

Joseph Daher is a Swiss-Syrian socialist and scholar. He is the author of Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God (2016) and Syria after the Uprisings: The Political Economy of State Resilience (2019).