Something happened on October 23 that could have a significant impact on further developments in the inter-Palestinian dialogue, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the geopolitical environment throughout the Middle East.
That was the day a foreign head of state visited the “Hamas” Gaza Strip for the first time in five years. As some Western publications have said, that constituted a political “okay” for Hamas.
Moreover, the event was significant because the very first leader to pay a visit was the “big backer” of the “revolutionary” processes currently taking place in the Arab world — the irrepressible Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Incidentally, the Emir did not arrive empty-handed; he brought the Hamas leaders a check for $250 million to fund Gaza’s economic recovery. It is also significant that after his arrival Al Thani said he had decided to increase the amount to $400 million.
And although the visit lasted just four hours, it created quite a flurry in the region.
Israel was predictably outraged and called the Emir’s visit “gross interference” in the internal inter-Palestinian conflict and said it undermined an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Qatar’s financial assistance to the Hamas government would be used to finance terrorist activities, not to rebuild Gaza and its economy. Anyway, he said, Qatar is exaggerating its own importance.
But if Israel’s response (which, by the way, was not especially harsh) was easy to predict, the opinions of other “key players” of the region are very revealing because they reflect current trends within the Hamas leadership and across the Middle East.
Egypt’s leaders, who now are of the same faith as Qatar, saluted the visit. After all, the Qatari money spent to finance the campaigns of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s current president, Mahmoud Mursi, needs to be worked off.
Therefore, it is also not surprising that Cairo has already said it will assist Qatar’s program for Gaza by allowing building materials, in particular, to be brought into Gaza through the Rafah checkpoint.
It would be difficult to call the reaction of other influential countries in the region to the Emir’s visit optimistic. For example, the “voice” of Saudi Arabia — Al Arabiya — virtually ignored the event.
But Tehran’s negative tone leaves no doubt about the trends that have emerged within the Hamas leadership.
Hamas gets a new boss
I have previously written for New Eastern Outlook about how the “revolutionary” events in Syria have caused the once monolithic Hamas to become a mosaic structure consisting of groups focused on sometimes opposing regional forces.
For those in the know, it is no great secret that Mohammed Marzouk, a Cairo University graduate and one of the organization’s chief ideologists, or Mahmoud al-Zahar, a former PNA Foreign Minister and a graduate of Egypt’s Ain Shams University, predictably follow Cairo’s lead; and the recent Hamas politburo chief, Khaled Meshaal, follows Doha’s; but former PNA Prime Minister and current Gaza Strip leader Ismail Haniyeh says he is pro-Iran.
This “multi-vector orientation” has maintained a kind of balance in the Islamic resistance movement.
However, funding shortfalls always lead to an active search for new sponsors and patrons. The West’s sanctions are gradually beginning to affect Iran’s economy. As a result, the gradual erosion of Tehran’s influence on the Hamas leadership is becoming increasingly obvious.
On top of that, rumors have recently been flying that Haniyeh, who evidently still holds a grudge against Tehran for failing to fulfill promises made during his visit to Iran this past February, has begun openly espousing a pro-Qatari policy.
First, he suddenly announced that Hamas does not intend to fight Israel if it attacks Iran.
And his conduct during Qatari Emir’s visit left little doubt about his current foreign policy priorities. He greeted Sheikh Al Thani on the red carpet and then drove with him personally and praised the Qatari leader’s efforts in ending the “political and economic blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by the forces of justice and tyranny.”
Persistent rumors are making the rounds of the Gaza Strip that the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades are preparing an armed coup to overthrow Gaza’s current leaders, who are headed by the “renegade,” Haniyeh. Of course, Iran’s fingerprints are all over that.
This may be the reason for the Qatari Emir’s hasty “sponsorship” and somewhat provocative visit. Then too, Israel’s response to it cannot be called very uncompromising. And that probably even has nothing to do with the fact that Al Thani is one of the few Arab leaders to have met with Israeli leaders.
Israel has to choose between two evils. It is now clear that a “Qatari” Hamas looks a lot better to Israel than an “Iranian” Hamas.
Incidentally, Washington seems to feel the same way.
“Our son of a bitch”
We all know that the US government (under both the Republican George Bush and the Democrat Barack Obama) considers Hamas a terrorist organization and has consistently condemned all official visits to Gaza.
That made US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland’s comment about Al Thani’s visit at a press briefing all the more surprising at first glance. She termed the “big backer’s” visit nothing less than a “humanitarian mission.”
Her pronounced courtesy in answering questions about Qatar at the press briefing was even more striking. “We share Qatar’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza,” she said, adding that she would not “get into hypothetical conversations that we didn’t have” concerning advice that might have been given to the Emir about his visit.
That is not surprising. Qatari money and extravagant Napoleonic ambitions appear to be a “key” Washington tool for implementing its ambitious plans in the region: removing first Hamas and then the other so-called “extraterritorial Islamist organizations” controlled by Tehran from Iran’s orbit; causing the tribalization of the Arab world in order to better extract hydrocarbons and other natural resources; and leaning on Syria, laying a pipeline through it from Qatar to Europe and saturating Europe with cheap gas, which is virtually guaranteed to put Russia into financial collapse. Its ultimate goal is the “Islamization” of the Greater Middle East, followed by fomenting a dispute between it and China.
Washington, by and large, currently looks upon Qatar as “our son of a bitch,” whose regional ambitions the current US administration is rushing to take advantage of. Indeed, despite its outward bravado, Doha’s domestic problems are growing more serious with each day that passes due to the power struggle within the ruling Al Thani family, and they threaten to rip the country apart from within.
However, to paraphrase the legendary “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, the Anglo-Saxons will always find someone in the region to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.
Fortunately, they do not want for historical experience.
Vitaly Nikolayevich Bilan holds a Candidate of Science (History) degree and is an expert on the Middle East. This article was written expressly for New Eastern Outlook.