Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet today with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Ankara, a Hamas website reports. The Turkish daily Today’s Zaman confirmed the meeting, while the Associated Press reports that the two plan to discuss “regional developments.”
Meshal, who heads Hamas’ external relations from Doha, Qatar, is making his third visit to the Turkish capital since September 2012. Today’s visit comes amidst persistent reports that he is no longer welcomed in Qatar.
It is unclear whether Meshal wishes to relocate to Turkey. To be sure, Erdoğan has emerged as one of the most outspoken world leaders advocating for Hamas in recent years. Apart from trading barbs with Israeli leaders and dispatching the ill-fated flotilla designed to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza, the Turkish leader has also reportedly been providing financial and material assistance to the violent Palestinian faction.
In addition, Turkey has allowed a senior Hamas operative, Saleh Arouri, to operate on its soil. Arouri, founder of Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in the West Bank, now reportedly oversees Hamas’ West Bank activity.
Arouri’s presence in Turkey is particularly risky for Ankara, which is a NATO and US ally. Hamas operations in the West Bank appear to be on the rise and fears of a third of intifada loom, raising concerns that Turkey could be the hub from which plots are launched. The idea that Ankara would allow Meshal, one of Hamas’ most recognizable leaders, to also seek shelter in Turkey seems hard to imagine, but the possibility cannot be ignored.
The other “regional developments” that Meshal and Erdoğan will discuss are likely to include Hamas’ dwindling finances, Hamas’ lack of regional sponsorship since the fall of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi, and the overall lack of direction among the group’s leadership.
Last year, Hamas’ leadership believed the movement was destined to emerge a clear winner after the Arab Spring, but now it finds itself clinging to its last remaining Sunni ally in Ankara.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies