Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

The Palestinians… And the Alliances with Moscow and Tehran

As soon as the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser introduced Yasser Arafat to the Soviets in 1969, the Palestinians began using the term strategic alliance to describe their relationship with the socialist bloc led by the Soviet Union.
This term was only adopted by one side. The Soviets called their relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization a friendship. In fact, they were only linked together through the The Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, which was not tied to the Foreign Ministry or the Kremlin.
This term grew and solidified as the great power’s relationship with the PLO evolved as the two sides exchanged visits and held meetings. However, they never became allies, nor did the USSR make any serious commitments to protect Palestinians from all the attempts to dismantle their revolution, specifically the fierce Israeli attacks against the Palestinians in regional countries (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan).
Palestinians stopped using the term “strategic alliance” after Israel launched its largest-ever military operation against them and their allies in Lebanon in 1982. The operation led to the withdrawal of the Palestinian revolutionary forces from the south, Beirut, and eventually, the whole country. For three months, Palestinians and their allies fought alone, without help from anyone. Soviets or the Palestinians' new Iranian allies, despite the significant military, political, and media support that the Palestinian revolution had provided for Iran’s revolution.
Arafat sent fighters to Tehran and ordered Palestinian ambassadors and representatives everywhere to support it. Arafat was the first official to visit Khomeini after the latter returned to Iran. The same thing that had happened with the Soviet Union happened with Iran. Arafat said, "The depth of the Palestinian revolution has expanded to stretch from Jerusalem to Khorasan."
With the 1982 Lebanon War, the Palestinians woke up to the truth that seemed bitter at the time. The Soviets dashed their hopes of a serious intervention to protect them. The furthest the Soviets went was to offer Arafat safe passage, along with his comrades and the PLO top brass, to any destination he deemed acceptable. As for Iran, it promised to send a hundred thousand fighters to Lebanon but did not follow through. No one came.
Speaking of Iran and Arafat, it seems that history is repeating itself, but with Hamas this time. It saw Iran and its proxy Hezbollah as major allies brought together in the "Axis of Resistance.” Indeed, they saw this Axis as more than an alliance, considering it a unified front in which all forces fight under the same banner and constitute a single block in which any member’s decisions are supported.
After Hamas’s major and highly successful operation that far exceeded expectations, Hamas officials called on its "allies" to share its victory. Hamas wanted them to go further than endorsing and celebrating the attack by taking substantial actions and engaging militarily to push back against Israel’s retaliation. They were hoping that every proxy would open a front and for Iran to play a more significant role. That is the implication of the invitation to share its victory.
Hezbollah did what it could, or more precisely, what the Lebanese situation allows for. Most of the country’s communities have reservations about a major conflict, and Hezbollah has limited the scope of its intervention to avoid escalation that could precipitate a regional war and wreak the same destruction on Beirut that had been in Gaza. Israel has made explicit threats to do so, and it has done so before, though perhaps at a more limited scale than it would now, these precedents should be kept in mind.
During the Hamas era, we heard responses from Iran that the Soviets had given during the PLO era. Friendship has its limits, and alliances have requisites that are not available, especially since one faction launched a major operation without coordinating with the others. Here, Iran avoided blame, and Hezbollah avoided stronger engagement, sending the term "alliance" to the archives.
The lesson from the experiences of Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization should have been understood from the start. There can be no alliance between a minor faction and a stronger, larger one; there can only be non-binding friendships and sympathies. Those who misunderstood the nature of these alliances and the allies' commitments to be, as they tried to make friendship and sympathy into something bigger with no basis in reality.
On a related note, when the Gulf War occurred following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the late Tariq Aziz visited Moscow, where he reminded officials of the great power of the cooperation agreement between the two countries. He was politely and diplomatically told: "You surprised us with the occupation of Kuwait. We will mediate with the Americans to end the war, nothing more." This indeed happened, but it was to no avail.