Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) embraces Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal upon arrival for a meeting in Tehran on Sunday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) embraces Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal upon arrival for a meeting in Tehran on Sunday. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
This sign on the streets of Tehran reads, "The people of Gaza are crying tears of blood."
This sign on the streets of Tehran reads, "The people of Gaza are crying tears of blood." Tom Bullock/NPR
The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, is on a visit to Tehran this week, to thank Iran for its support during Hamas' 22-day war with Israel. Meshaal has met with Iran's top leaders, who praise Hamas for what they call its great victory over Israel.
During the conflict with Hamas, Israeli leaders — and some in the United States — characterized the fighting as a proxy war with Iran. And Iran makes no secret of its support for the Palestinian resistance group.
For weeks, Iranian television and newspapers have been full of news about the war in Gaza — all of it anti-Israel and pro-Hamas. So Meshaal's visit has been hailed as something of a victory lap.
As Press TV, Iran's 24-hour English news channel via satellite and the Internet, reported: "Meshaal thanked Iranian authorities and people for their political and media support, and said Palestinian people would not forget it."
Meshaal has met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who was quoted as saying the resistance of the people in Gaza "conferred honor on all of us" — and with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian newspapers reported that Meshaal told both leaders Hamas is preparing itself to liberate all of Palestine, retake Jerusalem and secure the return of all Palestinian refugees.
Fervor Over Gaza
From the extensive television coverage, many in Iran were genuinely moved by the scenes of devastation and death in Gaza. In response to a call from the supreme leader, some Iranians even volunteered to go to Gaza as suicide bombers, although the leader later rescinded that statement.
Even reformers who oppose the current government were swept up in the Gaza fervor.
"If we believe that Hamas is not destroyed, and Israel did not reach to all the goals that they planned, so we can say that Hamas is rationally victorious and Israel has lost," said Mohammed Atrianfar, a writer and editor who often finds himself in opposition to the government. "So this is a victory for the resistance in the region and is a victory for Iran."
Israel and the United States both believe that Iran has given significant material support to Hamas, in the form of money, training for its militants and arms. The United States and Israel believe that many of the missiles that have been launched from Gaza into Israel originated in Iran and were smuggled from Sudan, across Egypt and through the tunnels that penetrate Gaza's southern border with Egypt.
Little is known publicly in Iran about weapons supplies. But the Iranian government makes no secret of its material support for Hamas.
Still, Iran is not in a position to control Hamas, conservative analyst Amir Mohebian said.
"Strategically it is good for Iran, but it does not mean that Iran wants to make Hamas as a puppet, or sends the, for example, arms to the — no, it is not true. Iran ideologically supports Hamas," he said.
Anti-Israeli Sentiment Intensifies
Iran has not always supported Hamas. During the late 1990s, Iran took a more moderate stance, indicating a willingness to back a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis if the Palestinian Authority negotiated a deal.
Iran's opposition to Israel became much more militant and vocal with the arrival of Ahmadinejad as president. For nearly four years now, he has vilified Israel, threatened it and expressed the belief that the Holocaust is a myth.
But not all Iranians are as swept up in the emotion of Gaza. Issa Saharkhiz, a reform journalist who is banned from publishing here, said many Iranians are much more concerned about domestic problems.
"Oil is coming down. Our income is down. We are thinking about inflation, employment and unemployment, and so on," Saharkhiz said.
Still, with its strong stand during the Gaza war, Iran has reinforced the view that it is one of the few governments in the region willing to align itself thoroughly with the Palestinians in Gaza.