Hamas is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of Israeli citizens, as well as Americans, in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks since the early 1990s. Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since it violently expelled the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Though funding has slowed in recent years, Iran has provided Hamas with financing, weapons, and military training in order for the group to carry out its deadly campaigns and administer Gaza.
- Type of Organization: Political, religious, social service provider, terrorist, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations: Islamist, jihadist, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group, pan-Islamist, Qutbist, Sunni
- Place of Origin: Gaza Strip
- Year of Origin: 1987
- Founder(s): Ahmed Yassin
- Places of Operation: Gaza Strip, West Bank, Israel, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran
Ideology and Tactics
Hamas is the U.S.-designated Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to replace Israel with an Islamist state of Palestine. Hamas views the entirety of the land of Mandate Palestine as an Islamic birthright that has been usurped. To that end, Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has dedicated itself to violently seeking Israel’s destruction. Like its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas strives to create an Islamist state based on the principles of sharia (Islamic law). Hamas’s slogan, spelled out in Article 8 of the organization’s 1988 charter, sums up the terror group’s belief system: “Allah is [our] target, the Prophet is [our] model, the Koran [our] constitution: Jihad is [our] path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of [our] wishes."
Hamas remains dedicated to violence as its primary tactic. The group is also steadfast in its refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. Iran has provided funding, weapons, and training to Hamas for it to carry out its deadly attacks. Beginning in the 1990s, Hamas executed waves of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. During the second intifada, Hamas claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel. Between 2001 and 2008, Hamas also launched more than 8,000 rockets at Israeli targets.
The United States designated Hamas a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997. Hamas has cooperated with other U.S.-designated terrorist organizations, including the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Hamas’s leadership is split between its political bureau and its Gaza government, which at times find themselves at odds. The political bureau is the organization’s principal authority and was previously based in Syria until Hamas leaders fled in 2012, having endorsed the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Izz ad-Din ad-Qassam Brigades are Hamas’s military wing, created in 1992 with the aim to block negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It is named after a Muslim preacher who, in 1930, organized the Black Hand, an anti-Zionist and anti-British organization. Hamas has an estimated 20,000 fighters, with another 20,000 in its police and security forces. It was revealed in 2014 that some 25,000 Hamas employees in Gaza work in the security services, and that a majority of them belong to the Qassam Brigades. According to one Qassam official, these employees would take orders from the Brigades—and not the Ministry of Interior—after the formation of a unity government with the PLO.
Hamas: Rulers of Gaza
Hamas entered Palestinian politics in January 2006, winning a majority in that month’s Palestinian Authority Legislative elections. The international community largely refused to deal with Hamas unless it renounced violence, recognized Israel, and abided by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Despite its role as Gaza’s government, Hamas continued to launch rockets and other terror attacks at Israeli targets. Hamas rocket fire led to three wars with Israel in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. Hamas also participated in the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In June 2007, Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza and took control of the coastal enclave. Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh, who had until then served as the Palestinian Authority prime minister, became the prime minister of Hamas’s Gaza government. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority signed a reconciliation agreement that led to Haniyeh stepping down and the appointment of a new PA prime minister. The reconciliation agreement notwithstanding, the PA has yet to reassert its authority over Gaza, where Hamas remains in control.
Iranian Material and Financial Support of Hamas’s Violent Activities
Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military and financial aid to Hamas since the 1990s. Hamas suicide bombings in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip during the 1990s and the second intifada (2000 and 2004) killed hundreds of Israelis. In the 2010 U.S. case Weinstein v. Iran, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit noted that 1995-1996 “was a peak period for Iranian economic support of Hamas because Iran typically paid for results, and Hamas was providing results by committing numerous bus bombings....” In February 1996, Hamas claimed responsibility for twin bus bombings in Jerusalem that killed American citizens Sara Duker and Matt Eisenfeld. In 2006, a U.S. court found Iran liable for sponsoring the attack.
From 2001 through May 2008, Hamas launched more than 3,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortar attacks at Israeli targets. During the July 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict, Iranian officials admitted that Iran had transferred technology to Hamas to allow the terror group to build its own rockets. “Once upon a time, they [Hamas] needed the arms manufacture know-how and we gave it to them” and Hamas can now “meet their own needs for weapons,” according to Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.
Hamas entered Palestinian Authority legislative elections in 2006. Following Hamas’s victory that January, Iran provided Hamas an estimated $23 million a month in financial and military aid. Iranian aid to Hamas dramatically decreased in 2012 following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. While Iran has sided with the embattled Assad regime, Hamas has supported Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow Assad. As a result, Iran cut approximately $10 million a month to Hamas. Ghazi Hamad, Hamas's deputy foreign minister, remarked: “I cannot deny that since 2006 Iran supported Hamas with money and many [other] things. But the situation is not like the past. I cannot say that everything is normal.”
The overthrow of Egypt’s pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government in 2013 left Hamas without a major ally, leading it to restore its relationship with Iran out of necessity. In January 2014, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim claimed that ties between the two “had never been conclusively severed” and that several recent meetings had led to “a marked improvement and progression in the relationship.” Taher al-Nounou, an aide to then-Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said Iran-Hamas relations were “almost back to how they were before.” That March, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said relations between Hamas and Iran had returned to normal and that Iran continues to support Hamas as a “resistance organization.”
Following a March 2015 meeting between Hamas and Iranian officials, Hamas’s Political Bureau Deputy Chief Bassem Naim said, “Iran reconfirmed its support for the resistance during the meeting, thus restoring warmth to the relationship between Hamas and Iran, which had cooled due to regional events.”
Shortly after, however, ties between Hamas and Iran suffered again. Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said in July 2015 that all Iranian aid to Hamas’s political and military wings had ceased. Marzouk said that relations between Hamas and Iran had not advanced in a direction that “interested” Hamas. Marzouk lashed out at Iranian officials that same month, accusing them of lying about supporting Hamas. According to Marzouk, Hamas had not received any Iranian money since 2009.
Hamas’s political and military wings have reportedly disagreed on the restoration of ties with Iran—the military wing supports the restoration, while the political wing has sought out ties with Sunni countries. Leaders of Hamas’s military wing have reportedly maintained relations with the Iranian government. The British Arab daily a-Sharq al-Awsat reported in April 2016 that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intended to send Hamas forces into Iraq to aid in the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas leader and political adviser to former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, confirmed in January 2016 that Iranian aid to the Izz ad-din ad-Qassam Brigades slowed but never stopped completely. According to Yousef, Iran publicly supports Palestinian “resistance forces” as a challenge to the United States and Israel. After the slowdown in Iranian funding following the Syrian fallout, Hamas military leaders reportedly continued to receive more than $45 million annually from the IRGC, though it did still represent a decrease in funding. According to anonymous Palestinian leaders cited in Arab media, the relationship between Iran and Hamas’s military wing may have diminished, but it never ended.