Sunday

14th Apr 2024

Column

Russia — balancing between Hamas and Israel

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Less than a week after it launched a brutal attack on Israel killing over a thousand of people in just one day, the terrorist Palestinian organisation Hamas issued a statement welcoming "Russian president Vladimir Putin's position regarding the ongoing Zionist aggression" against Palestinians in Gaza.

The Hamas statement came as no surprise. Unlike the overwhelming majority of Western nations, Russia never designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation and following the shocking reports of the Hamas-orchestrated massacre of Israeli and foreign civilians, Russia refused to condemn Hamas and, instead, rested responsibility for the crisis on the US.

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  • Russian influence in the region was never based on Moscow's solid commitment to either Arab or Israeli interests. On the contrary, it was threading between the two conflicting parties that brought the greatest benefit to Moscow (Photo: Anton Shekhovtsov)

As shock and anger about the Hamas attack spread throughout Western nations, some Ukrainian organisations tried to launch a new information offensive against the Russian aggression by linking Moscow to Hamas.

For example, the National Resistance Centre of Ukraine claimed — without presenting any proof — that fighters of the notorious Wagner Group had trained Hamas militants "during exercises in African countries".

But putting aside what appears to be figments about a Wagner-Hamas collusion, what do we know about relations between Russia and Hamas, and could Russia be wittingly involved in the planning of the terrorist massacre of Israelis?

When Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, Russia stressed that it did not consider Hamas as a terrorist organisation and insisted that it was important to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with whoever legitimately held power on the Palestinian territories.

Russia also invited representatives of Hamas to visit Moscow the same year, and their meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov became the first of the series of high-profile Russian trips of Hamas.

Moscow's position on Hamas initially angered Tel Aviv, but as Russian leadership assured their Israeli counterparts that they wanted to convince Hamas to reject violence and recognise the state of Israel, Tel Aviv eventually decided to ease down and see whether Russian would succeed in what it said it wanted to do.

Some EU leaders also seemed to be willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude towards Russian contacts with Hamas at that time.

Hamas did not change its ways, but Russia would still maintain relations with the organisation.

Carefully manoeuvring between Israeli and Arab authorities over the years, Russia strengthened its influence both in Israel and Arab territories. This allowed Moscow to alternately deepen contacts with Tel Aviv and Ramallah/Gaza without any serious risk of alienating either side.

Russia consistently criticised — on allegedly humanitarian grounds — Israel's military operations against Hamas in Gaza, and yet Israel decided to assume a 'neutral position' on the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

No Israeli sanctions on Russia

Tel Aviv never followed its Western allies in introducing sanctions against Russia even after the full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Israel also repeatedly rejected requests by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who is of Jewish origin, to provide Israeli weapons to Ukraine — even against the background of the increasing military cooperation between Russia and Israel's main foe in the region, Iran.

Tel Aviv might have again got angry with Moscow for the Hamas visit to Russia in September 2022, but neither that visit nor Lavrov's anti-Semitic remarks changed Israel's position on Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine.

There is no doubt that Hamas enjoys Russian political support, and the long history of contacts between Hamas representatives and Russian foreign ministry officials, as well as Moscow's condemnations of Tel Aviv's military operations in Gaza, are a case in point.

Nor is there any doubt that Russians covertly provided assistance to Hamas in the financial sphere: as one investigation showed, dozens of millions of dollars were funnelled to Hamas-affiliated groups through the US-sanctioned Russian crypto-exchange company Garantex.

But tangible success of Russian influence in the region was never based on Moscow's solid commitment to either Arab or Israeli interests. On the contrary, it was threading between the two conflicting parties that brought the greatest benefit to Russia.

A deliberate collusion with Hamas in its preparations for the surprise attack against Israel would have been a point of no return for Russia's relations with Israel — a step that cannot be justified even by the obvious political profits that the Russian aggression against Ukraine gains from the destabilisation of the Middle East.

Even if we assume that Russia might have hoped to keep such a collusion secret. No matter how bad the Israeli Shabak security service has been in detecting Hamas' murderous schemes, Russia is generally much worse at clandestine operations of relevant scale and would unlikely dare to challenge Shabak.

Nevertheless, Russia will try — and is already trying — to benefit from the Israeli-Hamas conflict that has an unfortunate potential to develop into a regional conflict.

The developments in the Middle East appear to be a convenient context for Russia to further push disinformation narratives about Western arms supplies to Ukraine ending up with international terrorists.

And Russia will not fail to attempt to amplify general anxieties of Western nations about the increasing number of armed conflicts in the world to advance its own aggressive foreign policy interests in Ukraine and beyond.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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