Has the Gaza crisis strengthened the Hamas-Hezbollah relationship?

  • 1 Jul 2021

The Palestinian resistance group and the Lebanese Shia armed group have had long-standing ties and the recent violence in Gaza might have helped to strengthen their connections.

Hamas and Hezbollah ties appear to deepen as leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Hassan Nasrallah meet in Lebanon's Beirut on June 29, 2021. ( Hezbollah Media Relations Office / AP )

Hamas and Hezbollah, two of the most significant political entities in Palestine and Lebanon, have distinguished themselves across the Middle East for their anti-Israeli resistance and their religious and nationalistic motivations. 

On Tuesday, their leaders, Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, met in Beirut to discuss the recent violence in Gaza, among other issues. 

“Nasrallah and Haniyeh affirmed the depth of the existing relationship between Hezbollah and Hamas, and its primary position in the axis of resistance,” a Hezbollah statement said, according to the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese TV station al-Mayadeen. The axis of resistance refers to an anti-Israeli alliance of forces mainly led by Iran. 

While the statement said that the meeting focused on Hamas-Hezbollah relationship within the axis of resistance, which includes the Assad regime, both groups have not been on the same page regarding the Syrian civil war. 

During the bloody civil war, Hezbollah allied with the Iran-backed Assad regime while Hamas backed the Syrian opposition, which has strong connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to friction between the two groups.  

Hamas was originally the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Muslim movement of political Islam. Hezbollah is a Shia Arab movement, emerging in the early 1980s in Lebanon inspired by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. 

A joint operations center

During the recent violence in Gaza, the connections between the two groups appeared to reach a new level. Last month, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ leading political figure in Gaza, said that Hamas coordinated with both Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards during the 11-day fighting, according to the Israeli media.

In this May 15, 2021 file photo, Lebanese wave Hezbollah and Palestinian flags, as they stand in front of the Israeli town of Metula, in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon.(AP)

Sinwar talked about “full coordination between the resistance in Lebanon and resistance in Gaza,” referring to Hezbollah and Hamas. Hamas launched over 3,000 rockets into Israel while defending the Palestinian enclave against Israeli aggression. There were reports that some rockets from Lebanon also landed in Israeli territory. Most of Hamas’ rockets are made with help from Iran. 

The cooperation between the groups might go even further. According to Ibrahim Al-Amine, editor of Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, a pro-Hezbollah newspaper, the two groups formed a joint military operations center in the Lebanese capital during the May crisis to coordinate the fight against Israel. 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards officers were also present in the centre and even the group’s Quds Force leader Esmail Ghaani visited the joint center, claims Amine. Ghaani replaced the force’s charismatic leader Qasem Soleimani after his assassination by an American military strike in Baghdad in 2020. 

Amine also claimed that Hezbollah transferred weapons and ammunition to Gaza, moving “a number of Palestinian resistance officers out of the Strip during the aggression.”

Similarities between the two groups

Hamas and Hezbollah have a lot in common; fierce opposition to Israel, connections to Iran, and the manner with which they defend themselves through massive underground complexes across territories they control in Gaza and Lebanon. 

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks during a rally held in south of Beirut, Lebanon, to mark the assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.(AP Archive)

Both groups have also had serious political problems with Washington, which designated them as terrorist groups. 

Another similarity is rooted in religious inspiration. While both groups have been heavily influenced by political Islam, their motivations and ideological origins are different due to sectarian differences. 

Both organisations were founded in the midst of resistance to Israeli invasions. Hamas was established in the late 1980s during the First Palestinian Intifada against Israel while Hezbollah was formed in the wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. 

Haniyeh’s Middle East tour

After a de-escalation of the fighting in Gaza last month, Haniyeh first visited Egypt to participate in reconciliation talks between the Fatah-led Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which controls West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Hamas. 

Then, in mid-June, he headed to Morocco, a country, which recently normalised relations with Israel, angering Palestinians. The visit appeared to be a balancing act for the Moroccan state to send a message to Palestinians that Rabat still supports their cause against Israel. Across Morocco, there were protests after the country's normalisation with Israel. 

In Morocco, Haniyeh met not only PJD, the biggest party, which leads the country’s governing coalition, but also opposition parties during his four-day visit. After Morocco, the Hamas leader went to neighbouring Mauritania prior to his arrival to Lebanon. 

In Beirut, besides Hezbollah’s Nasrallah, Haniyeh also met the country’s Christian-origin President Michel Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri. Both Lebanese leaders are political allies of Hezbollah.