Hamas leader credits Iran in Gaza victory

Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal was warmly received today in Iran, which has expanded its regional influence in recent years.

Baqer Nasir/Mehr News Agency/AP
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l.) welcomed Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal at the presidency in Tehran Feb. 1. Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalil (r.) looked on.

Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal traveled to Iran on Sunday, continuing a regional diplomatic tour by voicing again Hamas “victory” over Israel, and briefing Iranian officials on the results of 22 days of war. He also gave Iran a very public pat on the back.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has a big share in our victory in the Gaza Strip," said Mr. Meshal, who met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian television showed Mr. Meshal receiving a warm embrace from Ayatollah Khamenei, whose nation supported Hamas throughout the conflict and accuses Israeli leaders of war crimes. Iranian officials have turned the Gaza war - and its lopsided death toll, with 1,330 Palestinians killed compared to 13 Israelis - into a rallying cry of resistance against Israel and its American backers.

Hamas opposed to permanent cease-fire until 'occupation' ends
In the company of friends, Meshal said that Hamas would not agree to a cease-fire while Israel continued its 19-month economic blockade of Gaza. “The resistance is against a permanent cease-fire," the Hamas leader said. "While the occupation continues, a permanent cease-fire has no meaning."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called upon countries to assist reconstruction, and praised Hamas and the people of Gaza, who had “put out the fire of the Zionist regime.”

Though Israel says it met its key goals with air strikes and a ground offensive – of stopping Hamas rocketing of southern Israel and damaging the Hamas leadership – the Tehran summit Sunday was more about claiming triumph than acceding defeat.

War for influence: The US and Israel vs. Iran and its allies
The US and Israel accuse Shiite Muslim Iran of backing Hamas with money, as well as some weaponry, though much more cash for the Palestinian group has traditionally come from Sunni Arab supporters. Iran has worked hard to expand its regional impact – click here to read the Monitor's in-depth series about the rising influence of Shiites across the Middle East.

The war in Lebanon in 2006 between Israel and Hizbullah immediately took on a broader US-Iran significance. And so, too, Israeli officials cast this invasion of Gaza as striking a blow at Iranian influence in the region. Iran has used searing rhetoric to assert the exact opposite: that the Israeli attacks have resulted in an erosion of American influence.

Anti-Israel protests swept the Islamic world and Europe during the war, as television images showed its horrors day after day. In Tehran, demonstrators marched on Western embassies and that of Egypt. Iran’s state-run English-language satellite station PressTV is still running a special program titled “Gaza under ‘Siegefire.’”

And the Hamas leadership was not alone in being portrayed as heroes on Sunday in Tehran. Also lauded across front pages was Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who angrily walked off the stage in Davos after telling Israeli President Shimon Peres: “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.”

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