How Hamas Angled for Russia-China Support

October 30, 2023 Topic: Israel-Palestine Region: Global Tags: IsraelHamasChinaRussiaAuthoritarianism

How Hamas Angled for Russia-China Support

Moscow and Beijing have their reasons to hope for Hamas’ survival.

 

When Hamas attacked Israel in a massive surprise attack that led to the massacre of 1,400 people, it may have gambled on support from China and Russia. Hamas knew that it would receive Iran’s help, and Iran’s foreign minister flew to Doha in the week after the attack to discuss cooperation. Hamas could count on support or sympathy from Turkey and Qatar. This would help shield it from some of the international blowback to its atrocities on October 7. Hamas may have wondered how Russia and China’s reactions would play out. Russia and China have, in the past, condemned terrorism due to their own conflicts with groups in Syria and China’s Xinjiang region, respectively.  

However, Hamas would have known that there were changes in the air. Russia and China had grown closer over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both want to undermine the U.S.-led rules-based international order. In the last year, they have expanded groups like BRICS and SCO to include countries like Iran. Could Hamas count on their support? 

 

A video translated at the Middle East Media Research Institute shows “Hamas leader abroad Khaled Mashal: The Russians told us that our October 7 operation will be taught in military academies; The Chinese Are Thinking of Carrying out a similar attack in Taiwan.” Mashal said in the interview that Hamas wants to appeal to Russia and China. He also said the attack helped Russia because it distracted the world from the war in Ukraine. He spoke on October 26, so this is framing from three weeks into the conflict with Israel. Hamas may simply be providing a feedback loop now for the success it has found in Russia and China. However, this may also reflect the larger strategic plan it had before October 7.  

When Hamas carried out its attack, it took at least 230 people hostage. It turns out that it took so many hostages it also ended up with many people with foreign citizenship. Some of them have Russian citizenship. Israel’s Yediot newspaper reported on October 28 that “the Hamas terror group said on Saturday that it was trying to locate eight Russian-Israeli dual citizens that were taken hostage during the murderous terrorist attack on Israel in order to free them on Moscow’s request, Russian news agencies reported Saturday.” Note how Hamas presents this as “trying to locate.” Hamas carried out the attack; it massacred people, but it is in the process of trying to hedge on the atrocities.  

Hamas also did outreach to Russia. This is after outreach to Iran via Doha and also to Hezbollah. Hamas has also gotten Turkey on board to excuse its attack. Ankara will also not condemn Hamas terrorism even though Ankara constantly talks about “terrorist” threats from Syria. “A senior Iranian envoy met with Hamas representatives in Moscow following talks with Russian diplomats that underscored Moscow’s efforts to expand its clout as a power broker in the latest Israel-Hamas war, Russian and Iranian media said Friday,” the Associated Press reported.  

This report notes that Hamas’ representative, Moussa Abu Marzouk, met with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, in Russia. This means Russia is now brokering Iran-Hamas talks, much as it has hosted Syrian regime talks with Turkey and Iran. Russia is now key to the Hamas-Iran axis.  

Russia has condemned Israel’s air strikes on Gaza, even as Russia carried out attacks on Ukraine and has carried out attacks in Syria. Russia is trying to exploit the conflict in Gaza to use it as a wedge against the United States, and Moscow is slamming Israel because Russia sees Israel as a close U.S. ally. Despite the work that previous Israeli administrations did to work with Moscow and not involve themselves with Ukraine, the return on investment for that has now resulted in Moscow backing Hamas.  

Russia’s refusal to condemn the mass murder of 1,000 civilians appears to undermine global rules against terrorism. Russia has been a victim of terrorist attacks in the past, including in Beslan and the theatre siege in Moscow. However, now it has a new angle. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace claims that “despite the killing of 16 Russian nationals, and even as Muscovites laid flowers at the Israeli embassy, the Kremlin declined to condemn Hamas’s actions, expressing only ‘grave concerns.’ Some might see its overtures toward the group as an attempt to sow chaos. In fact, Moscow’s goal is to cement its status as a friend of the Global South.” It would seem that ignoring the massacre of 1,000 people to please the Global South is a strange excuse for Moscow’s current role. Where is the evidence that the “Global South” also thinks that it is okay to massacre 1,000 civilians? This goes unanswered. 

Chatham House has a similar report about China’s position. “Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went further, describing Israel’s bombardment of civilians in Gaza as actions that have gone beyond the scope of ‘self-defence.’ At the same time, Beijing avoided condemning Hamas’s atrocities against civilians. As in Ukraine, China is positioning itself as a peace-seeking, ‘neutral’ great power, in contrast to the United States, whose committed support for Israel is depicted by Beijing as a destabilizing, violent influence in the region,” a report noted. This report also claims that by not condemning the massacre of 1,000 civilians Beijing is “stressing its neutral stance and its role as a voice of the Global South, China wants to check the American moral standing and legitimize internationalization of the issue, calling for a global conference to initiate a peace processthereby removing Washington from its decades-long position as the unchallenged arbiter in the conflict.” 

Once again, the claim that not condemning the massacre of 1,000 people is all about joining the Global South seems to ignore the fact that the Global South countries are often the primary victims of mass terror attacks. For instance, there have been massive attacks in Somalia, Kenya, and Nigeria, and there are extremist threats throughout the Sahel. Is it true the Global South doesn’t see a massacre of 1,000 civilians as unacceptable? This part of the analysis seems problematic. Russia and China generally support authoritarian regimes. They could support the Palestinian Authority. In Syria, both countries back the regime because it is the “government.” They tend to be against rebel groups. Hamas, which illegally threw the PA out of Gaza, would appear not to be the legitimate government. Therefore, there seems to be much more at work here than the Global South and traditional views of Russia and China. Neither Russia nor China historically backed extremist groups tied to the Muslim Brotherhood or “political Islam,” the ideology that Hamas has roots in.  

What is clear is that Hamas did outreach to Russia. It also has cooperation with Iran. Ankara has been channeling the Hamas narrative and has been growing more extreme in condemnations of Israel. Russia and China may indeed be gambling that an in with Hamas will undermine the United States. Why they would undermine global efforts against extremism and harm to civilians is less clear, except that Russia has done the same in attacking Ukraine and bombing Syria. Chinese media and Russian state media are riding this issue. China’s CGTN had an article highlighting Ankara claiming “the West” is the “main culprit” behind Gaza’s “massacre.” This is the more likely agenda. Russia and China see a war against the West here. Hamas could be their proxy, and they are all too happy to play this role.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Image: Shutterstock.