Does Iran genuinely support Hamas and the Palestinians?

Are Iranian claims to support the Palestinian cause are more ostentatiou than genuine and practical?

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Recently, Iranian President Hassan Rowani rhetorically projected Iran’s leadership by calling Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, and stating that the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, and the international community, ought to take immediate and serious steps to assist Hamas and the Palestinians.

In addition, several Iranian state media outlets and officials have attempted to project an image of passivity in Arab countries towards supporting the Palestinians and Hamas. On the other hand, the Iranian press and its officials have straightforwardly referred to Iran’s unified and steadfast stance on supporting the Palestinians.

First of all, it is crucial to point out that in reality, Iranian claims to support the Palestinian cause are more ostentatious, showy, exaggerated, and theatrical rather than genuine and practical, in my view.

Iranian claims to support the Palestinian cause are more ostentatious, showy, exaggerated and theatrical rather than genuine and practical, in my view

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The Fars News Agency, the semi-official state news agency in Iran, was quick to boast about the letter that Palestinian resistance group Hamas wrote to Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, asking the Islamic Republic for support against attacks carried out by Israeli forces. Khalid al-Qoddoumi, Hamas’s representative in Iran, wrote in the letter, “Given the tragic situation in the Middle-East region, unfortunately at present the situation of Palestine is not under the focus of political circles and is no longer a priority for the region and the world’s media.”

According to Algemeiner and MEMRI institute’s translation, Javan newspaper, an Iranian state newspaper stated, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country in which a consensus on the Palestinian issue exists between the regime and its people. Together with popular support for the Palestinian fighters, the [Iranian] regime also provides important aid to the Palestinian fighters, including military weaponry… This measure by the Islamic Republic – arming the Palestinian groups – is carried out publicly, and not in secret, and has even been publicly emphasized by the leader [Khamenei].” Accordingly, the Islamic Republic has also provided Hamas with Fajr 5 missiles and Abadil drones before the war. However, the issue of consensus is questionable, as more and more Iranian people object to their country spending funds on Palestinians.

Nevertheless, why is the Islamic Republic attempting to project the image that Iran is the only country backing up the Palestinian cause? Why do Iranian media and its officials repeatedly imply that other countries in the region are insensitive to the plight of the Palestinians and claim that solely Iran is courageous enough to support the Palestinians publicly with total consensus?

The reasons behind Iranian leaders rhetoric to support the Palestinian cause and Hamas

The major reason, I believe, is Iran’s aspiration for regional hegemonic supremacy rather than the Iranian leaders claim for humanitarian factors as well as assisting the oppressed Palestinians.

First of all, in my view Iran supports and influences Hamas, Tehran then uses Hamas (as well as Tehran’s support for the Palestinian cause) as a tool to project its power and influence in the Arab world, I feel. The message that Iranian leaders are sending to other Arab countries is that Tehran does not only have influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, but also in other Arab territories as well.

Secondly, before 1979, Iran was allied with Israel and supported it fully while receiving weapons from Israel, after the Islamic Revolution, one of Iran’s major foreign policy objectives was rivalry towards Israel. It is crucial to point out that this rivalry was not linked at all with how Palestinians live, with the Palestinian cause, or Israeli-Palestinians issues, according to my understanding. The major reason for the rivalry, I feel, was Israel’s alliance with the United States, which was the Islamic Republic’s primary enemy and focus of its foreign and domestic policy. The United States, as an enemy, has been used as a tool to oppress domestic oppositions (labeling them as U.S.-backed groups), and to advance Iran’s ideological and regional hegemonic ambitions it seems.

In order to achieve its foreign policy objective, I believe that the Islamic Republic attempted to use any potential Palestinian or non-Palestinian party (such as Hezbollah) as a tool to project its power towards the United States and Israel, not actually and genuinely to help the Palestinians or advance their cause. During the last three decades, Iran has shifted its alliance with some Palestinian political parties, favoring a party that can advance Iran’s foreign policy objectives more effectively. Iran cut off ties with Hamas a few years ago, regarding Hamas’ stance towards President Bashar al-Assad, only to resume its strategic alliance with Hamas because it did not seem to have any other alternative to advance its foreign policy, strategic and geopolitical objectives against Israel and its ally, the United States, I believe.

The third reason I can see behind Iran’s rhetorical support for the Palestinian cause is ideological. In my view, Iran aims to send a signal to other regional powers, that the Islamic Republic does not only have influence in Shiite communities (Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah) but also in Sunni nations. I believe that the Iranian leaders’ aim is to project the Shiite ruling system of Iran in order to create a sense of legitimacy not only among Shiites in the Middle East, but also among the non-Shiite Muslims, particularly the Sunnis. It can be said that Iran has long attempted to penetrate into Sunni Arab communities and project itself as a leader.

In other words, I believe that the strategic, geopolitical, and ideological wellbeing of Iran as the core reasons and objectives behind Iran’s foreign policy of supporting Hamas, not the humanitarian reasons that Iranian officials, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have claimed.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected].

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