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15 January 2009


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I have frequently encountered a statement, namely that Hamas doesn't recognise the right of existence of Israel (and that thus Israel cannot be reasonably expected to deal with Hamas at all).

Could you, or any of the readers, please explain whether this is (a) accurate, and (b) whether or how this is indeed based on religious grounds and (c) whether or how this leads Hamas to limit their offers to hudna instead of traditional peace treaties.

Abu Sinan

Good explanation. I think that Iran is just filling the void that had previous been filled by countries like Egypt.

Now that Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel they can no longer be looked at to support Palestinian resistance.

Seeking to enlarge its role in the Middle East and wider Islamic world, Iran has stepped in and filled this void.

This creates a difficult position for countries like Saudi Arabia. The al-Saud family feels that Iran is an existential threat to their rule, as do other Sunni governments in the area.

The current political climate actually groups together some unlikely allies, most especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The people, as a whole, might not pay too much attention the Sunni/Shi'a divide, but the dictators and monarchies in the area sure do. It is more about power than real religious division, but like most things in the region, their leaders will want to give it a veneer of Islam.

In the '06 war the leaders certainly came out of the wrong side of the picture, with their own populations supporting the Shi'ite Hizb'Allah. This time around is little different.

The Saudis are essentially silent and have muzzled their own population. The idea being it is more important to keep down Hamas and their Shi'ite allies, even if it means effectively being stooges for the Israelis.


oh well, it is highly unlikely the Middle East conflict is about religion, the US Green Belt strategy was not really about religion either. and the US invasion of Iraq surely had nothing to do with the US president being supported by Evangelicals. The Irish troubles cannot be explained by Catholics being incompatible with Protestants as Spain and France had a similar conflict in the Basque country, and I remember before the US invented the moderate Sunni versus the extremist Shiite conflict (forgetting about Hamas and Bin Laden) Iraqui Shiite soldiers did fight against Iran, no?
Israel is not a religious project but created by European nationalism and colonialism, the US having inherited all that after WWII including colonial wars from the British and the French ...

Abu Sinan


The Israelis have never accepted the right of a Palestinian state to exist based upon 1967 borders, based on international law and numerous UN proclamations.

So it is true that publicly Hamas has not accepted Israel's right to exist, but it goes both ways. International law itself really doesn’t accept the legality of the current state of Israel anyways, Jerusalem and its annexation is illegal under international law, as is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Privately most Hamas leaders and supporters would accept a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

Hamas puts forward a lot of its argument in religious terms, but it doesn’t have to be so. Let’s remember that before the mid 1980's the entire struggle was almost complete secular/leftist in nature.

Religious extremism is just the flavour of the day, just as secularism/leftist and pan Arab movements were before.

Technically Hamas might do a long term Hudna, if given a Palestine based on 1967 borders, this mostly to appease its most hardcore followers.

The vast, vast majority of Palestinians would accept such a truce as set in stone, and with 1967, it would hold.


A few thoughts of mine:

1) In Islam, what's of paramount importance is being a Muslim. Everything else is secondary. In the West, people often identify first by denomination (Catholic, Lutheran, etc.) In Islamic countries, people identify first as Muslim.

2) While there are many legal traditions in Sunni Islam ( hanafi, maliki, wahhabi), there is no divine authority like the Pope. Emphasis is not on intercession by teachers and scholars but on personal responsibility before God.

3) I view the 'umma as more of a grass roots community of believers than as an organized political or religious system. In my view, Muslims believe that their shared religious beliefs should rule the world, not some corruptible religious or political leader.

Today the highest manifestation of the 'umma is the Hajj to Mecca, when millions of Muslims from around the world show that they are part of the community and return home lifted by the spirit of that community.

4) The acronym Hamas means enthusiasm, rapture, zeal, fighting spirit.

One of the reasons that foreign reporting is so barren, is that the names of foreign organizations are never translated. It's as if they are intended to remain devoid of any human content. Mujahideen, for example, are strugglers.

Ironically Gaza in Arabic is an easy pun with gas, which is found in abundance off the coast. It doesn't take much effort by an Arab speaker to envision American and Israeli intentions. After all, they already stole the land and the water...


Thanks so much. Your work contributes to a deeper understanding of the issues.


Had it not been for a French general, Charles Martel, in the Eighth Century, I am under the impression that Christianity would have disappeared from the face of the earth.

Was the failure of the followers of the Emir (killed in action) a result of the kind of factionalism you describe?


"I will restrain myself from discussing Sufism here in the interest of general readability."

sounds like you might have some interest in, separately now,discussing sufism, and that such discussion might, separately, be at least a bit useful here.

Charles I

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.


It seems to me that your views aren't all that dissimilar from those of former CIA agent Robert Baer, as expressed in his recent book The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower. He suggests that it is very much in the USA's interests to seek a rapprochment with Iran, and that they would be open to it. (That's not to say, he believes, that the negotiations would be easy.) He asserts that Iran has evolved from being the radical loose cannon it was in the years immediately following the 1979 revolution and is now deeply pragmatic and intent upon eventually dominating the entire Persian Gulf region. In pursuing this they are less concerned with the pieties of whom they work with and more with their willingness to take Iranian direction and ability to get results. With Iraq out of the way and largely coopted by the Persians (thanks to Bush-Cheney strategic blunders), he doesn't believe that the Sunni-dominated countries of the region have much of a long term chance of avoiding this fate. (He spends quite a few pages developing this theme, primarily on the basis of cultural and leadership structure differences between the Sunni and the Shia.) Thus, he believes we should ride the tide of history rather than trying to keep fighting it. If you've read this I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Patrick Lang

I have not talked to Bob about this but I know that several of my old colleagues for whom he worked agree with me. pl


As usual, a perfectly succinct and accurate description of the relationship. The only thing I could add to that is that historically, the Sunni Muslim world has never been as considerate to the Shia part of the Umma as the Shia has been to the Sunnis. In other words, had Hamas been Shia and Iran Sunni, its most likely that the support given today would not exist, as it doesn't from those paragons of the Sunni sect, the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

a - Yes it is accurate though they have in the last couple of years signaled that they would accept a Palestine based on the 1967 borders and furthermore they accepted Saudi Arabias peace plan.

b- Not in the slightest (although the opposition and Jihad against it is). It is entirely based on nationalism and a demand for justice for the forcible removal of Arabs from their land in the 1940's. Most people in Gaza actually hail from the very towns in the south that they throw their rockets at.

c- A hudna is a traditional Arab solution for when two tribes go to war but when neither can overcome the other and not stand the other. Its a peace treaty without the normalisation if you will. So you can see why its so apt here.
One thing to note that is while a hudna is translated as "temporary" it must be remembered that temporary in the ME is very different to what it means in the West. In the case of hudna it mostly means peace until such time that I know I can beat you. Given the disparity of the two parties in this instance and the one sided world from the worldwide community, any hudna between Hamas and Israel will likely last a while.



Thanks for educating us Americans that are interested in other viewpoints.

In my limited circle most including me don't have a real understanding of the issues when it comes to regions like the Middle East. We have never lived there. At most traveled as a tourist. And definitely know very little about the nuances of their culture and politics. But we do recognize that what is served up by our media does not even pass the laugh test.

A decade ago folks like me had a limited opportunity to get differing opinions based on experience as our corporate media had already become primarily a propaganda vehicle. I am very grateful that knowledgeable people like you do take the time and energy to foster better understanding of complex issues.


I've said it before and I'll say it again. The vast majority of the Arab/Muslim world is enraged by what has happened in Gaza. Many hold their own governments culpable and will look for leadership elsewhere. If Shiite Iran/Hizbullah provide it, they will find many who follow.

That is why Hamas is such a threat to Mubarak. Any success by Hamas would have increased Iran's legitimacy and ruined his own (what's left of it anyway.)

Now the question is, does Iran as a Nation state really have any interest in helping the Palestinians? Does it not simply create a big target sign on their heads? Wouldn't the west welcome Iran if tomorrow they renounced Hamas and Hizb and recognized Israel? If so why does Iran persist in 'defiance?'

I don't know the answer. Here is my speculation. It has something to do with the Umma that Col Lang spoke about. Iran, by confronting Israel successfully through Hizb and by confronting the U.S. Through its nuclear development is gaining the respect of the broader muslim world. This is not to say that there will ever be a single Islamic nation, but like the U.S. now has influence over Egypt, Jordan and much of the Persian Gulf, that could all change to favor Iran much as Iraq has. The only impediment is a government people hate and that can't last forever.

So while neocons talk of regime change in Iran, it is the regimes of their puppets that are most at risk.



The support it gets is not so much from the support it gives. The Saudis and Saddam sent hundreds of millions to the Palestinians or at least the leadership in Arafats time but were never "popular".

What Iran is doing is giving that Umma back some dignity. It is saying to HA and Hamas, if you want to resist we have your back, with money, with arms. And, like you say, they do it even though they put themselves in danger. And for that they have our eternal thanks.


". . .It is entirely based on nationalism and a demand for justice for the forcible removal of Arabs from their land in the 1940's. Most people in Gaza actually hail from the very towns in the south that they throw their rockets at." [Mo]

I could use a comprehensive explanation of "forcible removal." When I try to research this piece of history and Google "right of return," there are (surprise) two versions of the story. I had a friend (now deceased) who was born in Palestine in 1940. His father was a lawyer. In 1948, the father moved the family to Damascas where my friend subsequently grew up thinking of himself as Syrian. He never talked about being forcibly removed from his home.

A 2004 BBC story states:

"There is also debate over the number of refugees who initially left in 1948, and whether it was Arabs or Jews who caused them to go."

I understand everyone writes their own version of history. But where can I go to read eyewitness accounts of what really happened in 1948 with the displacement of Palestinians?

Sixty years is a long time to "spin" something. Someone must have a few indisputable facts.

Farmer Don

Col. Lang,
Here is the url describing a meeting Obama had to try to get more info on the Middle East.

Maybe you know these people.

Will he learn anything, or just hear more of the same?

Babak Makkinejad

Minnesotachuck & Lysander:

People in US and EU largely employ the strategy of wealth accumulation to enhance their security. Among Muslims, Hindus, Chinese and many others, people employ the strategy of creating relationships (hierarchical or lateral) & accumlating honour and favors to insulate themselves against vagaries of fate and outrageous fortune.

These 2 strategies are certainly not mutually exclusive but one or the other often times predominates among this or that group of people.

Most Americans, raised within a predominantly wealth accumulating strategic paradigm (and in a commercial culture to the booth) will not be able to negotiate effectively with people whose paradigm of self-protection is largely one of influence & relationship & honor accumulation. They have to recognize the other fellows' approach for successful negogiations.

I think this ignorance contributed to the failure of Camp David Summit with Clinton-Barack-Araft. I recall reading that an American present during that summit had asked - with exasperation -"I do not know what more this man [Arafat] wants?" Well, whatever Arafat wanted he could not get out of the Camp David Summit and the Arab leaders to whom he shopped the results also did not see what they wanted.

Thus, the current approaches to Iran, more goodies or more pain, advocated by Ambassadors Indyk, Hass, Ross and also by Mrs. Clinton have absolutely no chance of success.

I also do not think US will be any more successful in causing Iran to modify her policy towards Palestine & Israel. For if for US the cause of Israel is an Affair of the Heart, for Iran the cause of Palestinians is an Affair of Honor.

[Unfortunately, while an Iranian can understand an affair of the heart, there are not that many people in US – outside of US Military – that understand this notion of honor. I do not mean people in US have no honor, only that they are no longer motivated by honor except in the US Military – I am not sure if most people would consider “honor” as a quaint historical notion.]

Which basically means that on Israel-Palestine US & Iran need to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

An better approach would be to call for an unconditional but honorable reconciliation first and then to proceed from there.

[In my opinion, as always.]


It remains unclear to me how much Iran has helped Hamas, financially or materially. I have yet to hear of any zionist tanks or helicopters being destroyed by Iranian supplied munitions to Hamas.

Moral support? In abundance. Press TV has championed Hamas and the Muslims of Gaza for ages. How many people here know that the zionists drained all the currency out of Gaza before eid al-fitr, depriving the people of perhaps their moment of celebration?

Unity depends on an external source, people being people. I don't doubt that some Muslims will remain diehards but does it really matter to most who places their hands on their knees or whether or not du'a is acceptable?

As Col. Lang points out, Muslims are obligated to fight to defend Islam and Muslims IF the war against Muslims is being made because they are Muslim.

This is the question being asked by most ordinary Muslims, even ones from 'sects' that haven't been involved politically for hundreds of years, believe me.

To me, the answer is yes. But unity demands leadership - the essential sunni-shia divide. The Iranians have shown it, not much but a little. The Arabs have disgraced themselves.

The more Muslims see the participation of Arab Sunni leaders in the zionist slaughter of Muslims and the destruction of mosques (13 is the number reported) the more they realize they are the hypocrites.

Gaza is an issue for all Muslims.


Farmer Don

A group of non-entities. pl


"Itbach?" Someone will have to explain this verb to me. pl


Lina--I recommend Avi Shlaim's "The Iron Wall." Written 10 years ago, he had access to Israeli cabinet members and archives to get past the spin.

Also, an excellent eyewitness account of Israeli ethnic cleansing cames in a passage from none other than Yithak Rabin, who wrote in his memoirs, censored in the first edition: "While the fighting was still in progress, we had to grapple with a troublesome problem for whose solution we could not draw upon any previous experience: the fate of the civilian population of Lod and Ramle, numbering some 50,000...Clearly, we could not leave Lod's hostile and armed populace in our rear, where it could endanger the supply route...We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question: 'What is to be done with the population?' B.G. waved his hand in a gesture which said, 'Drive them out!'"

Then Rabin goes on to desribe how it was done.


MinnesotaChuck, The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco hosted Baer for a discussion of just this issue. If you use iTunes the podcast is available there. It might still be available on the Commonwealth Club's website if you don't use iTunes. Well worth the time. Cheers.



Forcible removal is a catch all for driving the Arabs of Palestine from their land and villages using a variety of techniques (there is a list of stuff on my blog under Zionist mythology).

Ironically, the combination of techniques involved very little actual physical removal of people. When the Hagganah and Irgun did enter a village it was not to remove but to slaughter, most infamously at Deir Yassine. They would then post flyers across all the surrounding villages warning that if the people did not leave the same fate awaited them (Any of this sound familiar?). And in one famous case, the Irgun took over an Arab radio station and broadcast messages telling the Arabs to flee (which is where the famous myth that the Arabs were told to leave by their leaders comes from).


Lina, apologies I didn't actually answer your question.

As always with these things, I always find it best to read work done by scholars critical of their own side rather than wonder about any bias. The most acclaimed book in that category has to be
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe.


You wrote: " and the US invasion of Iraq surely had nothing to do with the US president being supported by Evangelicals." I am by no means as sure as you are on that issue.


Respectfully, your sweeping---though eloquently written-- as always, generalities about the nature of humans leaves my heading spinning. You are not simply painting with a broad brush. You are painting with a battery of fire hoses.

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