Netanyahu Meets with Putin to Discuss Hezbollah and Hamas Relations

On January 29th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow to discuss the relationship between Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Netanyahu is likely worried about Iran’s continued role within Syria. Since the Iranians entered Syria militarily in order to buttress their ally Bashar Assad, they have been attempting to establish a military presence, as well as to protect and extend their corridor for the transfer and manufacture of precision weaponry like rockets and missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel has repeatedly voiced concerns over Iran’s presence in Syria and the smuggling of weaponry to Hezbollah. Israel has continued to maintain a willingness to use military action to strike Hezbollah targets within Syria in order to prevent the transfer sophisticated weaponry. Hezbollah is believed to have approximately 130,000 missiles and rockets allowing them to fire up to 1,000 rockets a day during a future conflict with Israel.

Hamas and Hezbollah have worked together in the past, which is unsurprising given that both terror groups share an Iranian sponsor. The Israelis remain concerned that Hamas could also use instability in Syria to open additional fronts.

During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza, Hamas fired rockets at Israel from southern Lebanon. After the 2014 war Hamas officials stated that they wanted to establish new bases with countries surrounding Israel. Hamas is able to use these camps in order to recruit Palestinian manpower.

Hamas and Hezbollah differed in their response to the Syrian civil war, with Hezbollah backed the Assad regime while Hamas supported Syrian rebels linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a decision which cost the Palestinian group Iranian funding. In November of 2017 a top Hamas official confirmed that Hezbollah and Hamas have restored close military cooperation. Reports suggest that Iranian largesse was only recently restored, following a visit to Tehran by Hamas officials.

Hamas’ need to reestablish its relationship with Iran comes after an increasingly acrimonious relationship with Egypt following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013. The post-Brotherhood regime blamed Hamas for its role in the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Islamist insurgency in Egypt.

Egypt has led efforts to reconcile Hamas and its Palestinian political rival, Fatah, as part of a strategy to defang the terror group. Part of that effort included a promise by Hamas to relinquish control over the Gaza Strip.

In 2017 a series of meetings between Hamas and senior officials from Egypt over the Gaza strip showed improved relations. It’s not yet clear how the restoration of Iranian funding will impact that relationship.

The restoration of ties between Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, and the prospect of Hamas and Hezbollah continuing to develop additional fronts, is certainly reasonable concern for Israeli strategists. Whether Russia has either the ability, or the willingness to restrain its Iranian ally remains to be seen.