Meshaal's "victory" tour seeks to strengthen ties

With aims to solidify Hamas in the MidEast


Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal returned to Damascus Saturday after visiting Khartoum, the last leg of his Hamas "victory tour" across the Middle East aimed at shoring up political and diplomatic ties between Hamas and regional powers in the aftermath of Israel's offensive on Gaza. .

Meshaal was in Khartoum to meet with senior Sudanese officials, following visits to the Doha Summit in Qatar and Tehran last week, as part of a push to reinforce regional support for Hamas after the Israeli offensive, which Hamas said resulted in diplomatic gains for the group.

Sudan hosts Meshaal

"Meshaal is trying to get hosted by major capitals in the region. He knows he cannot be hosted in Cairo or other ‘moderate’ countries in the region," Imad Gad, political analyst and editor of Mukhtarat Israeliya told AlArabiya.net.

Analysts see Meshaal's tour as an attempt to find a new mediator for the Palestinian cause instead of Egypt, which represented Hamas diplomatically and politically in negotiations with Israel.

"Sudan is backing Hamas more than Fatah, so the Sudanese regime is receiving Meshaal who is trying to visit an Arab capital other than Cairo, since Egypt cannot receive him," said Gad.

"Meshaal and his political bureau are trying to find an alternative mediator other than Egypt," he explained , adding that the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip often disagrees with Meshaal’s political bureau in Damascus

"The leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip wants to cooperate with Egyptian mediation to reach to a ceasefire. At the same time, however, the political bureau in Damascus is trying to find another mediator."

His visit was a follow up to the Qatari summit held in Doha, whose diplomatic aims have signaled regional tensions between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Syria, Sudan and Qatar on the other.

Hamas/Tehran connection

In a four-day victory lap in Tehran last week, Meshaal appeared at universities and in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, thanking Iran for its support during Hamas' 22-day war with Israel and calling Iran a "partner in victory."

"God made us victorious in Gaza, and we, the Hamas movement, came to say thank you to Iran, which stood with us," he said in a speech at Tehran University, according to Iranian news reports. "You are our partners in the victory in Gaza," he added as he thanked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Meshaal called on students at the University of Tehran to join the resistance movement and fight to liberate Jerusalem and asked Iranian officials and lawmakers to maintain their support and defense of the Palestinian people.

"God willing we will liberate Al-Quds (Jerusalem) together and pray together there," Meshaal told students at the University of Tehran on the third day of his visit.

During the conflict with Hamas, Israeli leaders along some in the U.S. characterized the fighting as a proxy war with Iran.

Israel and the U.S. accuse Iran of arming Hamas with weapons and rockets, which that have hit parts of southern Israel, a charge Iran denies. Iran says it supports Hamas financially and spiritually.

Analysts see Hamas's visit to Iran as crucial to the resistance group's survival in the region and for the Islamic Republic's legitimacy as a radical regional force.

"Iran stands in for so-called resistance camp in the region, the anti-U.S. and anti-Arab moderates' camp, so a visit by Hamas signals that Iran has become the place for resistance groups to go and consolidate their ranks," Amr Hamzawy, senior political associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told AlArabiya.net.

Hamzawy added that Tehran plays the symbolic role once played by Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, when liberation movements headed by Arab and African leaders went to Cairo to meet with Nasser in solidarity for the cause.

"Now they are visiting Tehran and meeting Ahmadinejad," Hamzawy said

Hamas has relied on Iran for financial and moral support since it won parliamentary elections in 2006 and following its marginalization by the international community after it seized power of Gaza in 2006.

Iran has never revealed how much money it provides to Hamas, but the group has said it had received hundreds of millions of dollars from the country over the past year.

"Hamas is politically stronger than before. It is weakened financially and in terms of its military capabilities, but its legitimacy in the region is solid," Hamzawy said.

Hamas is politically stronger than before. It is weakened financially and in terms of its military capabilities but its legitimacy in the region is solid

Amr Hamzawy, Senior political associate