How The Russia-Hamas Alliance Could Wind Up Undermining Both
Russia is largely discrediting itself as a viable leader in diplomacy after siding so plainly with Hamas.
For many years, Hamas was a welcomed guest in Moscow. The leaders of the terrorist organization, including Ismail Haniyeh, his deputies Saleh al-Aruri and Musa Abu Marzouk, regularly held meetings with senior Russian officials. In March of last year, the Russian Federation also hosted a delegation from the terrorist organization "Islamic Jihad."
On Oct. 27, a Hamas delegation paid a visit to Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputy Mikhail Bohdanov. During their visit, the militants expressed their gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his longstanding support and issued a call to the U.S. and Israel to cease hostilities in Gaza. They also announced their intention to locate eight hostages with Russian passports and secure their release, in exchange for weapons from the Russian Federation.
Russia has previously been the victim of Sunni terrorism, including a hostage crisis at a Moscow theater in 2002, the 2004 school attack in Beslan claiming 330 lives, and the downing of a Russian plane by ISIS fighters in Egypt in 2015, in which 224 people died.
While Russia has officially designated groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Sunni terrorist organizations as such, Hamas, which has affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood, notably remains off that list. Why is this the case?
A proxy for Iran
First, Hamas serves as a proxy for Russia's close partner, Iran. Given the deepening relations between Russia and Iran, particularly in their joint endeavors in Syria and Ukraine, Russia appears willing to provide further support to Iran and its associated actors.
Second, Moscow is seeking to counterbalance the influence of the United States and solidify its position in the Middle East. Russia asserts that it hosts Hamas delegations with the goal of fostering peace within Palestine and facilitating conflict resolution, positioning itself as an alternative mediator in place of Washington.
Hamas has openly acknowledged its close ties with Russia, especially following the recent attacks on Israel. Its leaders have expressed gratitude to Moscow for its unwavering support. While Russian support for Hamas may seem politically motivated, there are indications that the cooperation between the two entities extends beyond mere rhetoric and temporary convenience.
At the political level, the response is clear. In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas, the Russian Foreign Ministry's representative, Maria Zakharova, swiftly declared that "We call on the parties, Palestinian and Israeli, to immediately implement a ceasefire, renounce violence, exhibit the necessary restraint, and, with international community involvement, establish a negotiation process aimed at achieving comprehensive peace in the Middle East."
This statement indicates that the Russian leadership may have lost touch with reality, as it appears to be attempting to prevent Israel from responding and denying its right to self-defense, all while failing to acknowledge the actions of Hamas. Notably, Putin himself drew parallels between the blockade of Gaza by Israel and the blockade of Leningrad by Nazi Germany. Others associated with the Kremlin have disseminated anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic statements, with propagandists from the Russian Federation joining in.
The Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was quoted by state-run RIA Novosti as saying, "Israeli fascism in its cruelty towards the Palestinians is probably worse than under Hitler."
Around the same time, Moscow convened an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, demanding the organization of a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The Russian draft resolution failed to secure a majority, and Russia did not condemn Hamas for its brutal actions against civilians. This stance contradicts Russia's claim of a balanced and neutral position and points to further deterioration of bilateral relations with Israel.
Hamas employs Russian-made weaponry, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, RPGs, and Kornet anti-tank missiles.
Amid this toxic environment, thousands of people in the Republic of Dagestan stormed the local airport and hotels, apparently intending to harm Israelis and Jews believed to be arriving from Israel on Oct. 29 on a direct flight.
New anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Ukrainian content emerges on daily basis in Russian mass media. Russia is challenging American positions in the Middle East and draws parallels between the regional situation and Ukraine to weaken global support for Ukraine.
Furthermore, Russian support for Hamas is hardly limited to mere political statements. Hamas employs Russian-made weaponry, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, RPGs, and Kornet anti-tank missiles. There's also information suggesting that instructors for Russia's paramilitary group Wagner are training Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists. Additionally, Russian online crypto platforms have been implicated in transferring millions of dollars to terrorists in violation of sanctions.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh
Impact of Ukraine invasion
Russia's primary regional partner is Iran, and their relationship involves extensive cooperation in economic, security, and intelligence aspects. This partnership deepened significantly during the prolonged conflict in Syria, where Russia provided support to the Assad regime. Within the Syrian context, Iran operated under the Russian umbrella and supplied weapons to various groups, including militants in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Recent reports suggest that Iran's de facto army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, began using the Russian Khmeimim air base in Syria to supply weapons to certain groups.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Iran swiftly provided support to the Russian Federation, including drones and weaponry. in Moscow’s eyes, this elevated Iran's role from a minor player to an equal partner, particularly in the Middle East.
Moscow may find it beneficial for the Middle East conflict to persist.
Geopolitically, Russia could benefit from the Gaza conflict by diverting global attention away from Ukraine and potentially opening a second front against the United States. In this context, Hamas is viewed as a means to destabilize the region. Moreover, potential instability in the Middle East could lead to increased energy prices, which would be advantageous for Russia, especially in the lead-up to the winter season.
Moscow also saw the potential change in the Middle East's political landscape, driven by the possible normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as a risk to Russia's interests in the region by diminishing its influence in the Arab world. Moscow may therefore find it beneficial for the Middle East conflict to persist, hindering any potential agreement between Israel and the Saudis.
Since Russia's entry into Syria in 2015, Israel had regarded Russia as a responsible state capable of using its influence to mitigate the threat posed by Iran and the Assad regime. This policy sometimes yielded positive results, including the establishment of a hotline between Russian command in Syria and the IDF, contributing to de-escalation. Bilateral relations deepened over time. However, Russia's current stance indicates a misalignment of interests between the two countries.
Even after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Israeli politicians continued to hold the outdated belief that public criticism of Russia’s actions might jeopardize Israel's national interests on its northern border. While some Israelis believed that Russia could still be relied upon to contain Iran, the evolution of Moscow policies underlines the necessity for a change in Israel's approach to its relationship with Russia in light of its position on Hamas.
Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Palestinian politicians meeting in Moscow in 2017
Who can Israel trust?
handling of hostagesIn the wake of the conflict with Hamas, reports indicate a notable surge in anti-Semitism within Russia, and across various mediums, including traditional media, social networks, and official statements from Kremlin figures, including Putin himself. This situation has raised concerns about Russia's ability to play a constructive role in the region.
Israel is now faced with the imperative to reevaluate its longstanding perceptions of Russia's role in the Middle East, its capacity to influence Iran and its proxies, and the potential implications for Israel's national security. Following this reevaluation, Israeli authorities are contemplating a series of decisive actions.
Firstly, Israel is considering summoning the Russian ambassador while avoiding a complete severing of diplomatic ties. Israel's foreign ministry has already condemned the Moscow invitation for Hamas and described it as "an act of support for terrorism and legitimization of the atrocities." However, this statement did not explicitly condemn Russia for its assistance to these terrorist groups.
Russia's actions have raised concerns about its ability to play a constructive role in the Middle East region.
Secondly, Israel is contemplating an invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for an official visit. This visit would serve as a gesture of solidarity with Israel and could mark the initiation of discussions on enhancing Ukraine's security, excluding the provision of lethal weapons. Israel may also explore the possibility of offering other modern security technologies to Ukraine.
Thirdly, Israel is determined not to allow Russia any role in shaping the unfolding events related to the conflict, the handling of hostages, and the overall security of the region. It is also contemplating a reassessment of the visa-free policy between Russia and Israel.These deliberated steps aim to safeguard Israel's national interests and convey a clear message to Western allies to trust Russia even less.
- Israel And U.S. Condemn Kremlin Meeting With Hamas Envoy ›
- Hamas Envoy In Moscow Salutes Putin And “Active Russian ... ›
- Did Russia Have A Hand In The Hamas Attack? ›
- The Problem With Calling Hamas "Nazis" - Worldcrunch ›