Friday, July 2, 2010

Russia Engages Hamas

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By Barry Rubin

Wow, I’m not used to my predictions coming true this fast! In a meeting with a diplomat, I said that one of the most important features of the Middle East soon would be a Russian alliance with the Islamist forces. Russia was already Syria’s arms’ supplier and ally, Iran’s friend (though it did support limited sanctions because there are other interests it must consider), and now is working with Hizballah. It was only a matter of time, I added, before Russia took a pro-Hamas stance as well.

I walked home quickly, sat down, and opened my computer and here it is:

“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said...that his country was doing the right thing in its direct talks with the Hamas organization. `Yes, we are holding talks with Hamas – because it was elected by a large Palestinian majority in free elections, according to all elements….’’’

But this is okay says Lavrov, because Moscow is telling Hamas to become moderate and is even “witnessing positive movements."

If you believe that Russia is going to persuade Hamas to be moderate, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. What is clear, however, is that Hamas has convinced Russia to be even more extreme in its Middle East policy.

And by the way, if Lavrov read this blog he'd know that the Hamas regime was not elected by a large Palestinian majority, it was imposed in a violent coup.

This is not the first such Russia-Hamas meeting but now it is a formal and publicly declared diplomatic action.

In theory, the United States should approach Moscow and say that it is really unhelpful and the U.S. government is ticked off about it. But just after a successful meeting with the Russian president and ignoring the arrest of a huge Russian spy ring in the United States, President Barack H. Obama will do nothing. This is a mistake as it tells Russia once again that it again trample on U.S. policy at no cost whatsoever. Signal sent: Russia strong; America weak. America must listen to Russia; Russia doesn't have to listen to America. Once again, the White House won't even notice that this failure has happened, much less correct it.

A Russian alliance with the main revolutionary Islamist bloc led by Iran is now an established fact. Of course, Moscow won’t do everything Tehran wants but it will do a great deal in that direction. Will the U.S. government notice that even if Russia voted for the UN sanctions it is still subverting U.S. regional policies in a dozen other ways? No. And when Russian companies break the UN sanctions for which Moscow voted Washington won’t notice that either.

But aren’t the Russians worried to back radical Islamists because of its own Islamist problem? On the contrary, one advantage of doing so is to buy off Iran from backing these revolutionary groups inside Russia.

One more step in the erosion of U.S. credibility and power in the world. Yawn!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (PalgraveMacmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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