Thursday, September 29, 2022

By Daled Amos

Just two weeks ago, I wrote about the bond between Russia and Israel, the result of their shared experiences with terrorist attacks against their civilians and because of the large number of Russians living in Israel.

Now it turns out that on September 10, a delegation of Hamas terrorist leaders -- led by leader Ismail Haniyeh -- visited Moscow at the invitation of the Russian government. As a matter of policy, Russia does not see Hamas as a terrorist organization and hosted it back in 2020 and Grigory Karasin, chair of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, has described Haniyeh as "one of the most moderate and prudent leaders of Hamas."

In 2017, the Russian ambassador to Israel -- Alexander Shein -- explained in an interview why Russia does not recognize either Hezbollah or Hamas to be terrorist organizations:

We do not consider these organizations to be terrorist. True, they are radical organizations, which sometimes adhere to extremist political views...Russian law - the Supreme Court, following an appeal by the prosecution - defines terrorist organizations as such when they intentionally conduct acts of terror in Russian territory, or against Russian interests abroad - installations, embassies, offices, or citizens. [emphasis added]

Apparently, it escaped Shein's notice that the large number of Russians with dual citizenship living in Israel would qualify as "Russian interests" according to his own definition.

Israel and Russia restored full relations between the 2 countries in 1991, 24 years after Russia broke off relations following the Six Day War. During that time, the US displaced the then-Soviet Union as the major power broker in the region. Since the renewal of relations, Russia has not been silent when Israel was targeted by Hamas.

In 2014, Russia came out in support of Operation Protective Edge, Israel's response to Hamas targeting Israeli civilians with its rockets:

“I am closely tracking what is happening in Israel,” Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked in a meeting on Wednesday with a delegation of Chief Rabbis and representatives of the Rabbinical Center of Europe.

...“I support Israel’s battle that is intended to keep its citizens protected,” he [Putin] said about the Israel Defense Forces’ operation to restore quiet to the region and stop Hamas terrorism.

“I also heard about the shocking murder of the three teenagers,” Putin added about the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar, three Yeshiva students in Israel. “This is an unconscionable act and I ask that you bring my condolences to the families.”

Despite the condemnation, Russia has not dumped Hamas as a "friend," instead keeping all ties open, much in the same way that China maintains relations simultaneously with both Israel and Iran.

But what is the point of Russia's personally inviting the Hamas leaders for a visit?

JNS hosted a discussion of the possible reasons for the invitation.

One suggestion was that this was Putin's way of dispelling the current image of Russia as an isolated pariah:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has no one who wants to play with him. So he’s happy to invite anyone. And, not surprisingly, it’s going be someone with whom no one wants to play either.

But that can hardly be the whole answer, since hosting Hamas is hardly a way for a leader to establish his legitimacy and demonstrate that he is in demand.

Another, possibly additional, motivation for the invitation could be a rebuke of Israel. Back in May, Hamas was invited to Russia, shortly after then-Foreign Minister Lapid accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. But if so, it was not clear what Israel did this time to provoke the invitation this time around.

A third possibility, suggested by Jonathan Schanzer of Federation for Defense of Democracies, is that the invitation is part of a growing alliance that Russia is building:

It appears that Putin is building an axis of like-minded governments and entities, Schanzer said. “It really does look like he is working to create a new revisionist axis that already includes the Iranians, includes China potentially, and includes North Korea.”

“The question is whether this is an effort to legitimize and recruit Hamas to be part of that broader coalition. Or is this for show, or something else entirely?”

For its part, Hamas thinks there is a shift taking place among the world powers, and it wants to get in on the ground floor. At a conference this past June in Gaza entitled Palestinian Sovereignty, the Strategic Variables and Future Paths, Haniyeh spoke about 4 variables towards a new strategic vision:

The "success" of the Sword of Jerusalem campaign during the fighting of May of last year
o  America's withdrawal from  the area, a sign of its declining power and influence
o  The Russia-Ukraine war, which supposedly is actually between Russia and the West
o  The Abraham Accords, specifically the military and security alliances with Arab countries

The key variable, according to Haniyeh, is the 3rd one -- the war in the Ukraine:

"This is the broadest and most significant war in the struggle between the world's camps since the end of WWII." Stressing that "after this war the world will no longer be the same," he added: "It will undoubtedly become a multipolar world, and the currently prevailing unipolar era in international and global policy will end. This will certainly be a very important change, and it will impact both our Arab and Islamic region and our [Palestinian] cause and our struggle with the occupation."

Haniyeh is very keen on this up-and-coming multipolar world:

"Haniyeh stated that the Zionist narrative is no longer current, that Israel's status is not what it once was, and that there are important variables to be based on, including openness to large and influential countries such as China and Russia as well as Islamic Iran and all the countries that are confronting the Israel-U.S. policy in the region... [emphasis added]

Haniyeh's speech seems to dovetail nicely with the suggestion that this new multipolar world is something that Russia itself may be pursuing.

But if Haniyeh was expecting a confirmation of his goals against Israel during his visit to Russia, he was disappointed. The statements issued separately by the Russians and Hamas were very different.

Russia's statement emphasized the need to settle the conflict on the basis of a generally recognized legal framework, but Hamas emphasized that all negotiations with Israel have failed and that "resistance" was the only realistic option remaining:

According to the official statement of the Russian foreign ministry, the talks between the ministry officials and the Hamas delegation focused on "the developments in the Middle East, with emphasis on Palestinian affairs. The Russian side stressed the importance of quickly restoring the Palestinian national unity on the basis of the PLO's political program, as well as the need to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of generally-recognized legal framework, which is rooted in the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly and the Arab peace initiative."

...The Hamas statement, on the other hand, emphasized that the delegation had informed the Russian officials of "the Israeli violations" against the Palestinian people and had stressed the Palestinians' right to "resist the occupation by every possible means, until liberation and return [are achieved]."...The statement said further that Hamas "is working to strengthen its ties with its Islamic and Arab surroundings and with influential international elements that support our people," and added: "The hegemonial status of the U.S. in the world order has harmed the Palestinian cause, and we believe that the shift to a multipolar world order based on just principles will benefit our people and our cause."

Publicly, at least, there seemed to be very little to indicate that Russia considered Hamas to be an asset -- let alone a valued ally. Hamas may very well see the value of a "multipolar world," but that does not mean it will get to sit at the same table with these other countries.

But if that means that this whole exercise of hosting Hamas was intended as a rebuke and warning to Israel, it doesn't appear to have had the desired effect.

Just this week, Israel had its own rebuke for Russia in response to its attempt to annex parts of Ukraine

Israel's Foreign Ministry stated on Tuesday that Israel "recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," as Russia holds its fifth and last day of referendums as a prelude to it annexing four Ukrainian regions.

Israel "Will not accept the results of the referendum in the Eastern districts of Ukraine," the Israeli statement said, in a rare rebuke of Moscow.

Considering the sensitive agreement between Israel and Russia regarding Israeli flights into Syria in response to Iranian threats, the statement was somewhat unexpected -- especially since it preceded any official statement by Russia and the statement itself was apparently not the result of US pressure.

Israel seems to see Russia hosting Hamas as a rebuke -- nothing more.

As for Haniyeh, he may be jumping the gun when he compares the Russia-Ukraine war favorably to WWII as an opportunity for Hamas to reap the benefits of a new world order. He seems to have forgotten about the other world war, WWI. 

That was when the Ottoman Empire also saw a new world order in the making -- and joined against the allied powers.

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