Does messi support isreal ? As Hamas launched its blitz attack against Israel on Oct. 7, some observers were quick to suspect the Moscow-Tehran axis at work.
Russia, so the argument went, was deliberately and directly fueling conflict in the Holy Land to broaden its battlefield with the West. Others drew direct comparisons between Hamas’s vicious onslaught and Russia’s war against Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky argued that one was “a terrorist organization that attacked Israel” and the other “a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine.” (Many Palestinians have taken issue with this characterization.)
It is true that Moscow has long maintained close relations with Hamas, an Islamist group that controls Gaza and enjoys Iranian backing. The militant movement won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and took over Gaza during the ensuing Palestinian civil war. Hamas has both political and military wings, and some Western states, such as Australia and New Zealand, have only declared the military wing—the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades—to be a terrorist organization. Others, such as the United States, have not made this distinction.
The Kremlin, for its part, has never declared either wing of Hamas to be a terrorist group. Rather, eager to carve out a niche in the Middle East peace process, Russian diplomats have tried to unify different Palestinian factions, including Hamas, into a single political force in order to restart the peace process and promote a two-state solution.
Hamas delegations have frequented Moscow, meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who holds the Middle Eastern file at the foreign ministry. Russia consulted with Palestinian factions in Doha, Qatar, and Ramallah, in the West Bank, and hosted talks between them at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, which I used to frequent as a visiting scholar. Those talks showed that Hamas is far from a Russian puppet: In one round of negotiations, held in Moscow in February 2019, the group’s leadership refused to sign a final statement brokered by the Russian hosts.
Over the years, some Russian-made weapons—such as anti-tank and shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles— have made their way into Gaza, likely via Iran. But so far, there is no clear evidence that Russia supported Hamas in planning or executing its surprise attack on Israel.
But that does not mean that Russia is a nonentity in this latest Israel-Hamas conflict. Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has dramatically deepened its cooperation with Iran. In return for Iranian combat drones and other military gear, Russia has stepped up its defense support for Tehran, including—as the United States fears—with assistance for its missile and space-launched vehicle programs. There has been a flurry of Iranian-Russian military engagement, including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s tour of an arms exhibition in Tehran last month.
Once an eager mediator in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, Russia has also lost enthusiasm for seeing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action restored. After its invasion of Ukraine, Russia ceased to push for meaningful and timely progress in the nuclear talks, creating a de facto shield for Iran’s near-nuclear status.
In Syria, Russia and Iran have found common cause in harassing U.S. forces stationed in the northeast. Those troops—numbering about 900 at any given time—remain in Syria to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State, support U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, and thwart Iranian and Russian ambitions in the country. According to classified documents leaked earlier this year, Russia, Iran, and Syria have established a “coordination center” to direct a concerted effort to drive the U.S. military out.
Russia has taken some steps to compensate for Iran’s empowerment, eagerly supporting normalization between Syria and several Arab states. On balance, however, Russia is enabling rather than constraining Tehran in the region. Even though there is no evidence to support the idea that Iran was intimately involved in planning Hamas’s attack, it has long provided logistical and military support to the militant movement, as well as to other proxy groups in its increasingly decentralized “axis of resistance.”
A new war in the Middle East suits Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moscow hopes to deflect Western attention and resources away from Ukraine by cultivating global pressure points and distractions.
A menace in a world of partial disorder
The structure of the global order is unwinding, not because democracies in Europe and North America are weaker or less economically influential than they were, but because other regional players have grown in the meantime.
In parallel, the institutional framework of the global order is outdated yet remains rigid to our contemporary needs due to clashing visions on the global stage, while no clear victor has yet emerged from the fray.
Some of the major actors outside of the Western democratic world are more rational, desiring economic growth rather than waging wars, and not all of them ascribe to an ideological system that is antagonistic towards the West as a whole.
Russia, unfortunately for the rest of us, is the exact opposite.
Flashpoints outlining the Kremlin’s shadow
For the past two years, there have been three flashpoints all involving Russia: its invasion of Ukraine, the latest Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the bloody incursion of the Hamas’ military wing into Israel.
Russia plays various roles in all three. In Ukraine, it is the invader, in Nagorno-Karabakh it is the (intentionally) failed peacekeeper.
And as for Israel, it’s a weak partner who colluded with the Iranian regime as well as with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, while acting as a meddling influence on the balance of power in the Middle East.
Yet, it was Vladimir Putin whom Netanyahu officially spoke to over the phone after the attack, at the same time refusing an offer from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a state visit to Israel in its time of need.
It can seem confounding, considering that the USSR armed the forces poised to destroy Israel on both occasions its very existence was at stake — the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War — as a Cold War flex to rattle the US.
But this time, Russia is not the USSR, especially not in terms of ideology, as much as it’s willing to toy with the idea whenever it thinks it’s useful.
Questions over Russia’s involvement in bloodshed
At the same time, Iran has been leading the charge in clamouring for war against Israel now — an aggressive stance most Arab countries have meanwhile given up on because of its futility and great cost.
Meanwhile, Russia is undisputably buying weapons for its war against Ukraine from Iran while forging a tenuous alliance with Tehran in Syria, where Moscow intervened to keep Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime in power by any means necessary.
Naturally, questions arose over Russia’s possible role in Hamas’ attack on 7 October.
Recently, it was uncovered that the Palestinian militants partially financed their operations by purchasing cryptocurrency in Russia in the lead-up to last Saturday’s incursion and the resulting atrocities.
Millions of dollars were funnelled through Garantex, a Moscow-based crypto exchange, to various extremist groups connected to Hamas.
Beyond that, there is no evidence that the Kremlin actually supplied Hamas or any other extremist group in Palestine with weapons, or that it took part in the planning of any of their operations.
Bullets for Kalashnikovs and conflicting narratives
Moscow, however, does enjoy close political ties to Hamas, seen again just last Saturday when its leadership publically waxed lyrical about Putin, saying it “appreciates Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position … and the fact that he does not accept the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
“We also affirm that we welcome Russia’s tireless efforts to stop the systematic and barbaric Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” they said in a statement.
In another interview with Russia’s state-owned RT in Arabic, a high-ranking Hamas official stated that “Hamas has a license from Russia to locally produce bullets for Kalashnikovs, that Russia sympathises with Hamas, and that it is pleased with the war because it is easing American pressure on it with regard to the war in Ukraine”.
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