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«Lisa van der Hulst lisavanderhulst s0914959 MA Thesis International Studies Prof. mr. dr. Berger January 2015 10380 words Table of Contents ...»

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Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s sense of

interconnectedness before and since the Syrian War:

succumbing to sectarianism or unity in resistance?

Lisa van der Hulst



MA Thesis

International Studies

Prof. mr. dr. Berger

January 2015

10380 words

Table of Contents


Research question and relevance 3

Background 4

Literature review 5

Sectarianism 5 Resistance 7 Methodology 10 Method 10 Three types of interconnectedness 10 Data collection 12 Sources 12 Representativeness 12 Analysis 14 Physical cooperation 14 Spiritual connectedness 15 Sameness 15 Anti-sectarianism and unity 19 Decision-making process within Hamas 20 Conclusion and Discussion 25 Literature 27 2 Introduction Research question and relevance Not only popular media and private research centers1, but also key authors on the International Relations of the Middle-East2 often assume that Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s perceptions of each other have recently changed. Supposedly their relation has always been good, but deteriorated as a result of the Syrian war, because the organizations support opposite sides.3 This kind of analysis fits into the category of ‘realism’ and it portrays Hezbollah as hypocrite, backing the Arab Spring until it was its friend Assad’s turn to withdraw.4 Consequently, the predominantly Sunni Arab world allegedly lost faith in Hezbollah and Hamas severed itself from its Lebanese colleague in favor of fellow Sunni actors, which are ideologically more stable partners according to these analyses. For example in the words of the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center ‘[Hezbollah] has lost its halo as a voice for the oppressed and downtrodden, and has exposed itself as a partisan and sectarian party that will side with Iran and its allies even at the expense of human rights and human lives in neighboring Syria.’5 There is something that verifiably changed since Hamas reported to support Assad’s opposition: the headquarters have been moved from Damascus to Doha in February 2012.

Consequently, Western news agencies, political analysts and IR scholars have almost without exception employed a neorealist perspective on Hamas-Hezbollah relations and thereby ignore the organizations’ internal dynamics. The authors focus on the structure in which Hamas and Hezbollah operate rather than on their agency, on security rather than on their ideas and values and they bluntly divide the Middle-East in axes according to religious sect. Therefore I wonder whether the Syrian civil war really affected Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ sense of connectedness with each other, and if so, to what extent.

On the one hand, because it is the conventional way of looking at these situations, neorealism provides less new insights than, for example, a social constructivist approach. Besides, if we want to trace the influence of the Syrian civil war on perceptions of Hamas and Hezbollah, we need to look 1 For example Fahmy, O.& N. Al-Mughrabi(24Feb2012), ‘Hamas Ditches Assad, Backs Syrian Revolt’ last accessed 13Jan2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/24/us-syria-palestinians-idUSTRE81N1CC20120224; Ghaddar (26Aug2013) ‘The Marriage and Divorce of Hamas and Hezbollah’ last accessed 13Jan2015, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/islamists/article/the-marriage-and-divorce-hamas-and-hezbollah; Salem, P.

(19June2012) ‘Can Hezbollah Weather the Arab Spring?’ last accessed 13Jan2015, http://www.projectsyndicate.org/commentary/can-hezbollah-weather-the-arab-spring; AFP(21June2013)‘Syria’s Sectarian War Causes Hamas Split, say Analysts’ last accessed 13Jan2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2013/06/21/Syria-s-sectarian-war-causes-Hamas-split-sayanalysts.html; Javedanvar, M.(22Aug2013)‘Hezbollah-Hamas Relationship Strained’ last accessed 13Jan2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/hezbollah-hamas-setback-bombings.html#.

2 Bar 2007; Bahgat 2009 and Salloukh 2013.

3 For example: Dr. Shehadi, associate fellow at Chatham House: “Without Hamas, the Axis of Resistance is reduced to a mere sectarian alliance.” (Rowell, A.(8June2013)‘When Resistances Collide’ last accessed 29Oct2014 https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/when-resistances-collide.) 4 Knio 2013:856.

5 Salem, P.(19June2012)‘Can Hezbollah Weather the Arab Spring?’ 3 further than a few possible strategic interests. We need to know how the organizations are built around specific values and norms and how decision-making comes about. Constructivism offers an interesting view in this matter, as it may be able to explain something that realism cannot: the fact that it took Hamas almost a year to decide which side it would support in the Syrian war.

On the other hand, the (neo)realist approach is helpful, because realism is a useful simplification when looking at a situation with many actors. Furthermore, as I plan to use the method of discourse analysis it is not my aim to identify individual opinions and the data will be quite onedimensional.

This research is relevant theoretically and socially. As the Syrian civil war has begun relatively recently, there has not been done much research yet on the indirect effects of the war. Given the number of Western publications on Hamas-Hezbollah relations, it is a topic of great interest to the West. However, it is impossible to gain an understanding of Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s sense of interconnectedness without taking into consideration their own publications on the subject. So far research on these publications has not been conducted. Therefore, this study aims to fill part of the gap and attempts to cover the situation from the viewpoint of the organizations themselves instead of serving the interests of the Western audience. It may reveal changes in the balance of power in the Middle-East, affirming neorealist expectations. Furthermore, it may show the importance of shared values of Hamas and Hezbollah in their identity construction as compared to sectarian values. Hence it can give an insight in the stability of relations between Hamas and Hezbollah.

Background An alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is not completely logical. During the Lebanese civil war (’75-’90) the heaviest fighting took place between Shia and Palestinians. Many Lebanese in general blame Palestinians (the PLO) for instigating the Lebanese civil war, by attacking Israel from Lebanese territory and thereby inviting Israel to bomb Lebanon. Another reason for tensions is that Palestinians disturb the labor market and the political balance in Lebanon by their presence as refugees.6 The relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah started in 1992, when Israel deported hundreds of Hamas members to Lebanon as a revenge for killing an Israeli policeman, and when Hezbollah started to protect these Hamas members. Whereas some authors have pointed to instances of noncooperation between the two organizations7, others have seen a continuous cooperative relationship from 1992 onwards.8 In the early 1990s Hamas and Iran started to build a relationship as well. Iran supported Hamas financially and provided weapons and months long training sessions in Iran. The way to Iran went through Syria, but Assad also supported Hamas and facilitated a quick and safe passage through

6 Sayigh 2007 [1979]:115,142.7 See for example Frankel 2012:55.8 For example El-Hosseini 2010; Nerantzaki 2012.

4 for them. The bonds between Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria and Iran grew stronger during the second intifada and after Hamas democratically won the elections in Palestine.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah supported the revolutions that were part of the Arab Spring. A major reason for Hezbollah to support these was because the former dictators were Western-minded and therefore did not take a hard stance on Israel.9 When the popular revolt in Syria began on 15 March 2011, Hezbollah immediately chose to support Assad. Hamas on the other hand did not choose a side, but in February 2012 the Politburo left Damascus for Doha and statements that Hamas backed the Syrian opposition appeared in the media.

Literature review

Sectarianism The essence of Hamas and Hezbollah as organizations and the relation between them are topics that have been covered extensively. Most of the literature generalizes, creates boundaries and axes or place the organizations in the position of the eternal offender, in contrast with Israel as the eternal defender.

Papers produced by research centers like Wilson Center10 and the Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)11 have argued that Hamas and Hezbollah indeed split up over the Syrian issue. Their papers focus on the balance of power in the Middle East and its consequences for the West. Frankel even argues that the former alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah was ‘more of a marriage of convenience than a true ideological kinship’ and that Hamas prefers Sunni allies so that ‘Hamas—Iran relations seem unlikely to return to their formally strong state any time soon.’12 When looking at this, it is helpful to take into account the underlying motivations of these research centers. For instance, both centers state on their websites that they highlight the power of the United States in the world.

Additionally, the CSIS explicitly mentions that it ‘has been dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world.’13 A divided Middle-East can indeed enhance American and Israeli power in the region. However, the evidence to support their claims about the Hamas-Hezbollah split is almost exclusively based on newspaper articles. Authors like Bar and Frankel, by describing Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘terrorist organizations,’ fail to grasp a comprehensive image of the organizations, including domestic processes and development aid carried out by the organizations. We should keep in mind that their point of departure is the danger that Hamas and Hezbollah represent to the interests of the US and Israel. However, there are also more comprehensive and balanced studies.

9 See also A4, A6.

10 Ghaddar(26Aug2013)‘The Marriage and Divorce of Hamas and Hezbollah.’ 11 Frankel 2012.

12 Frankel 2012:60.

13 CSIS 2013.

5 Expert in Lebanese politics Knio of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague14 has adopted a significantly divergent way of interpreting the nature of Hezbollah as an organization concerning structure and agency. He offers an epistemological critique when he argues that traditional structure/agency approaches are not applicable, nor are the post-structural accounts that place the organization somewhere in the middle. According to him, Hezbollah is neither just a proxy client of Iran and Syria, nor just a particularly Lebanese, quasi-autonomous state within Lebanon consisting of a military, political and welfare branch, nor the sum of these two.15 He prefers an approach that views Hezbollah’s military and welfare branches as one whole, embedded in a culture of resistance that is nourished by Shia theology and tradition.16 But according to Knio these approaches still cannot explain why Hezbollah supports the Assad regime while it backed the popular revolts during other attempts for revolution in the Middle-East. Knio prefers Archer’s morphogenetic approach instead, through which he assesses both the Lebanese domestic situation and the wider context of relations in the Middle-East. This approach considers the dynamics of the organization, and thus records changes over time. Without mentioning theory, Hovdenak17 offers a similar approach in his analysis of Hamas.

Knio claims that whereas Hezbollah’s relation to Iran has been one of dependence, Hezbollah’s relation to Syria has been one of opportunism until 1992, when the Lebanese civil war and the Cold War had ended; Hezbollah entered politics; Nasrallah succeeded Moussawi and Syria’s military presence in Lebanon was legitimized by a treaty.18 From this time on Syria normalized Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon and strengthened the party’s autonomy. In 2000 again a new period began: Israel withdrew from the south of Lebanon that it had occupied for 15 years, so resistance with the aim of liberating the homeland was not necessary anymore. Yet, Hezbollah chose to ‘reproduce the status quo’ (the resistance against Israel from before 2000), taking the Shebaa farms and Western and UN interference calling for independent elections in Lebanon and an international tribunal after the murder of Hariri as objects to resist.19 However, Knio does not succeed in answering why Hezbollah wanted this status quo and what Hezbollah’s relation to Iran and Syria has got to do with it. Still, Knio’s approach is useful to place my own findings in a wider framework of Hezbollah’s dynamics, as he deconstructs and reconstructs Hezbollah using specific time-bound events and processes in a complex web of international and domestic relations. Using Knio’s morphogenetic approach, Hezbollah has been in the status quoresistance phase during the time period that my research covers: the period just before the Syrian War until present.

14 2013.

15 Knio 2013:857.

16 As in the work of Harb&Leenders 2005 paraphrased in Knio 2013:862.

17 2009.

18 Knio 2013:864.

19 Knio 2013:865.

6 Still, all the above-mentioned authors place Hamas and Hezbollah in a sectarian framework, stressing their Sunni and Shia identities, respectively. Drawing from the existing literature, potential reasons for Hezbollah to support the Syrian government would therefore be related to sectarian alignment, for example the Assad regime being predominantly of the Shiite sect of Alawites; both Syria and Hezbollah are regional allies of Iran; or trying to prevent Saudi and Gulf (Sunni) influence in Syria.

Reasons for Hamas to support the Syrian opposition would be for example religious-ideological closeness to the Syrian Sunni opposition; power-political and financial resources of the Gulf and Saudi-Arabia; or fear that Sunni Arab states will turn their back on Hamas if it does not support Syrian opposition.

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