This article originally appeared in Britain’s Daily Telegraph on December 18, 2019.
The latest reports that Turkey is now permitting senior Hamas commanders to order attacks against Israel from Istanbul is not surprising. It is however highly disappointing and represents a huge setback in the quest of the US, the UK, and their western allies to bring about a more peaceful Middle East.
It might be recalled that in mid-2014, three Israeli teenagers were abducted by Hamas operatives in the West Bank and subsequently murdered. The mastermind of the attacks was Salah al-Arouri, who moved to Turkey after residing in Syria, and issued orders to Hamas from Turkish soil. He shifted his residence multiple times, moving to Qatar and Beirut, but ultimately he would come back to Turkey where he engaged in dispatching Palestinians in the field.
According to its own charter, Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928, but later expanded to many countries. Geopolitically, the movement backed the recovery of lost Islamic territories from Spain (what they still call Andalus) to the Balkans.
Its leader in 1966 was assassinated in an Egyptian prison, at which point some of its most important leaders moved to Saudi Arabia, where they became active in founding what was to become al-Qaeda. Turkish Islamists have been known to speak about a need to take revenge for the Ottoman defeat at the Gates of Vienna in 1683.
Hamas is an organisation with shifting loyalties. During the early 1990s, it took money from Saudi Arabia and after the 9/11 attacks Iran became its main benefactor, and to a lesser extent Qatar. A poster found by the Israel Defense Forces around 2003 in educational institutions in the West Bank pictured the founder of Hamas alongside Chechen commanders like Khattab and Shamil Basayev, as well as the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
President Putin cannot derive any comfort from these associations, as Russia draws closer to the Turkish leadership. In the last few years, while the West crushed Isil in Syria and Iraq, it still persists organisationally in Northern Sinai where it is involved in an insurgency war with the Egyptian Army. Sometimes Hamas competes with Isil, but they also cooperate.
All this suggests that analysts of the trends in Turkey should be pessimistic about the future. The main centre of Hamas overseas operations cannot be a member of Nato. Yet there is a greater threat to the entire Middle East emerging in Iran. The Iranians, who pretend to be allies of a more radical Turkey, remain its main adversary.
In recent years, Tehran has been infiltrating Turkey, seeking to convert whole villages in the eastern parts of the country to Shiism – a practice the Iranians followed in Morocco, Sudan and in Egypt. Israel recalls Ottoman policies of protecting Jewish refugees who were oppressed in Western Europe, especially after the Spanish Inquisition. Turkey does not need to put itself on a collision course with Israel. It needs to look back to its own rich history and rid itself of the likes of Hamas in order to take its place in the world order that will emerge in the remainder of the present century.