May 2, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

How Hamas balances Qatar, Turkey and the West

Rumors continue to circulate that Hamas might relocate to host countries, however Hamas has too much to lose by leaving Doha, and the West and Doha have interests at stake.
May 2, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

How Hamas balances Qatar, Turkey and the West

Rumors continue to circulate that Hamas might relocate to host countries, however Hamas has too much to lose by leaving Doha, and the West and Doha have interests at stake.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stayed longer than usual in Turkey when he visited the NATO member country in mid-April along with a large Hamas delegation. But it’s not the first time Hamas leaders have been greeted in Turkey with fanfare by Turkey’s president.

Ankara has long backed Hamas and hosted its delegations over the years. Hamas has also been hosted by US major non-NATO ally Qatar since 2012, and the West has supported seeing its allies host Hamas, which is an inconvenient aspect of the Hamas terror attack on October 7. Hamas is backed by two western allies and carried out the largest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust, but is unlikely to move completely from one western ally to another because it receives more protection by being hosted for high-level meetings by both Ankara and Doha.

However, there is now speculation in Israeli media about whether the Haniyeh meetings and his subsequent stay in Turkey for several days is a symbol of more to come. This comes amid months of rumors that Hamas might relocate from Qatar after 2012 years.

The rumors about Hamas seeking to extend its stay in Turkey came from a report at Asharq al-Awsat in London. The report was then re-reported in Maariv and other media. “Sources close to Hamas told the newspaper that the purpose of the visit to Istanbul is to discuss Turkey’s role as a debating country and Ankara’s role after the war. According to the sources, Hamas does not want to cause further embarrassment to Qatar, and its officials would prefer to leave and reduce the pressure.”

In another report a senior Hamas official claimed the group would relocate to Jordan if it was asked to leave Qatar. Al-Arabiya noted that Hamas official “Musa Abu Marzouk insisted that any talk of Hamas leaders leaving Qatar is currently unfounded, but said that Jordan could serve as an alternative destination.” The report also noted that “Doha was asked by Washington to host them.” The Hamas official said “all this talk about Hamas’s departure from Qatar is worthless,” in an interview with al-Alam news channel.

On April 20, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Hamas’s political leadership is looking to move from its current base in Qatar, as US legislators build pressure on the Gulf state to deliver on cease-fire negotiations that look likely to fail.”

The article made it appear that if Hamas was asked to leave Doha then it could “upend delicate talks to free dozens of Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza and likely make it more difficult for Israel and the US to pass messages to a group designated by Washington as a terrorist organization.” That report said that Hamas could consider Oman as a possible destination.

Will diplomacy and engagement lead to stability?

Prior to October 7 Israel and the West were told that having Hamas hosted in Qatar, and welcomed in NATO member Turkey, would moderate Hamas. The messaging was that diplomacy and engagement would lead to stability. However, Hamas stockpiled masses of weapons in Gaza and built hundreds of miles of tunnels, becoming exponentially more powerful in the decade and a half its members were greeted and hosted in Doha and Ankara.

Hamas received support from Iran and has also had high-level meetings in Russia, but the fact is that friends in high places among western allies gave Hamas a feeling that it could carry out October 7 with impunity.

Israel was lured into a sense that Hamas was deterred prior to October 7 because it seemed implausible that a group hosted by western allies would ever carry out such a massive terror attack.

Israel believed the Hezbollah and Iranian proxy threats were graver than Hamas because while they have no western allies, Hamas has a foot in both camps, Iran and western allies.

One could argue that Hamas has had tacit or indirect western backing over the decades. For instance many western NGOs partner with Hamas in Gaza and praise its role in bringing “law and order” to Gaza.

How those same NGOs square that with images of the dead body of Shani Louk being paraded through the streets by their Hamas partners on October 7 is unclear. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that western NGOs see Hamas “law and order” in Gaza as preferable to the “chaos” of not having Hamas. Hamas gunmen are often seen taking over aid trucks in Gaza, in coordination with humanitarian aid groups.

This leads us back to the question of whether Hamas would relocate from Doha. Doha’s messaging today is that any relocation would jeopardize the hostages.

However, since Hamas violated the first hostage deal on December 1, no more deals have taken place. The messaging by Hamas is clear. Prior to October 7 it was “deterred” and having it hosted by western allies supposedly enabled Israel and the West to “engage” with it and prevent war. Then Hamas carried out the worst attack in Israel’s history and the messaging shifted to assert that Hamas must be hosted by western allies in order to do hostage deals, deals that never seem to happen. The messaging from Hamas is that they want a deal to remain in Gaza, to get numerous of their murderous prisoners back and then have immunity to carry out more attacks.

Hamas enjoys immunity primarily because it has the cover of western allies. Jordan or Oman do not give it similar cover. Hamas leaders such as Khaled Meshaal were once located in Jordan, but even Jordan found hosting them was not helpful.

Hamas has spent four decades spreading terror and undermining peace, so why would a wise country like Jordan want to host them? After all, it is Hamas that was responsible for harming peace during the Oslo years, increasing bus bombings, and then illegally taking over Gaza in 2007 and ejecting the Jordanian-backed and western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Oddly, the West decided to play both sides, as they also did in Afghanistan. They trained the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, but they hedged their bets by allowing allies to host Hamas.

Hamas, through being hosted by western allies, became exponentially stronger since 2012. Its rockets which once only flew a few kilometers and its tunnels which were once low and narrow, grew to monstrous proportions, with the West watching it happen.

Doha became a major non-NATO ally of the US, hosting not only Hamas but the Taliban who returned to power in Kabul in 2021.

It appears that major non-NATO ally status was a reward for hosting these groups. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other partners of the West, got the cold shoulder the more they cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and the more they didn’t want to host Hamas and the more they embraced peace with Israel.

The message is clear.  Hamas grew exponentially powerful and wealthy through western allies. Iran may have supplied the know-how for the missiles and weapons, but the wealth and immunity and cover against war crimes prosecution, comes through western allies. Hezbollah today faces more challenges than Hamas because it is a Shi’ite sectarian Iranian proxy.

Hamas is setting its sights on the West Bank to take over when PA President Mahmoud Abbas passes. As such, it will want the backing of Ankara and Doha and the West when it seeks power in Ramallah.

If Hamas must rely only on Iran, or is stuck in a place like Oman, it won’t be able to swoop in to control the West Bank after the Gaza war eventually ends.

The long game for Ankara and Doha, and their western allies, is to have a foothold in Gaza and the West Bank via Hamas. Hamas understands this and knows that it is sometimes used as a tool for larger agendas, and it exploits that to carry out massacres such as October 7.

There are no other cases of western allies hosting terrorist groups who massacre thousands of people and take hundreds of hostages, including citizens of western countries. Al-Shabab or Boko Haram don’t get the red carpet in meetings in Turkey. Hamas, due to its Muslim Brotherhood roots, its important role in Palestinian politics, and its war against Israel, is hosted by western allies because both the West and western allies have an interest in keeping Hamas corralled in their corner, and not remain a pariah group backed by Iran. This has been a disaster for the Gazans, but the interests are larger than Gaza. 

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.


Arab Politics International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Turkey