from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Turkey and Hamas

January 27, 2012

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Is Turkey purchasing Hamas from Iran?

One recent report says "a high-ranking Hamas official told the Al-Sharq newspaper on Thursday" that "Turkey has agreed to carry out a project to support Hamas and rebuild Gaza. According to the official, Hamas will open an official office in Turkey in the coming weeks."  I have seen other reports suggesting that Turkey has replaced Iran as the largest donor to Hamas, pledging $300 million over the coming year.

This would be a significant development in many ways. In the context of Turkey’s relations with Iran and Syria, it would reflect the anticipated demise of the Assad regime in Damascus and the problems this causes for Hamas--which has long been headquartered there. With Assad gone and Iran’s role in Syria greatly weakened, Hamas would need a new sponsor and protector and Turkey could play that role. For Turkey, this would provide obvious advantages in its rivalry with Iran for influence in the Arab world and in its contest with Israel.

What has Turkey demanded from Hamas, recognized as a terrorist group by both the United States and the EU?  Nothing visible. For the moment Hamas is not shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel, but there is no way of knowing if Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan demanded, for instance, that Hamas permanently renounce terror or remove the anti-Semitic poison in its charter as a precondition for support. Given his own attitude toward Israel, it seems unlikely. Should Hamas launch another round of terror against Israel, the Turks could find that their new alliance is an embarrassment, complicating relations not only with Israel but with the United States and the EU.

This is a smart move for Hamas, of course, at least so long as Turkey’s star is rising and Erdogan is in charge. Far better a Sunni sponsor with growing influence than a Shia paymaster that is an international pariah under growing sanctions. One has to wonder how the Turkish role affects the internal dynamics in Hamas, where the Gaza hierarchy appears to be pushing aside the formerly dominant outsiders, led by Khaled Meshal from Damascus. Is Turkey supporting, indeed financing, this development? Will it push Hamas into elections, now scheduled for May 4?Will it urge Hamas to join the PLO (well, little urging is needed for that one) and agree to negotiations with Israel?

In my view, Turkey’s support for Hamas makes peace a far more distant prospect. Israel will not negotiate with a PLO whose leadership includes the terrorists of Hamas. And Turkey does not appear to be demanding profound changes in Hamas as the price for its support. So far, then, this move appears to have a great deal to do with Erdogan’s search for power and influence, and Hamas’s search for a substitute for Iran and Syria--and nothing to do with a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.