By B. Cohen
The ruling Hamas regime in Gaza has angrily denied Israeli claims that Khaled Mashaal, the head of the terror organization’s political bureau, has been expelled from his base in Qatar, at the same time leaving open the question of whether Mashaal will now move to NATO member Turkey, as some reports have suggested.
The Israeli government responded to reports that Mashaal had been thrown out of Qatar – where he has been living in a luxury hotel in the capital, Doha – by saying that it “welcomes Qatar’s decision.”
“We expect the Turkish government to act responsibly in a similar way,” the Israeli statement added.
However, Izzat Rishq, a top aide to Mashaal, flatly contradicted the Israeli claim, telling the Associated Press: “There is no basis of truth about brother Khaled Mashaal leaving Doha. We are in Doha now.”
AP also reported that the Turkish Foreign Ministry said it had no information on a Qatari decision or plans by Mashaal to relocate to Turkey.
One pro-Hamas commentator in Gaza did shed some light on the mystery. In a posting on Facebook in Arabic, columnist Ibrahim al Madhoun said that Mashaal might well leave Qatar, but not “for the reasons reported.”
Those reasons, explained Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation For Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC, are rooted in Qatar’s currently rocky relationship with Egypt. The two countries have been at loggerheads for the last eighteen months over Qatar’s continued financial backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose rule in Egypt was overthrown by the current President, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, in July 2013. Egyptian and Qatari intelligence officials met in Cairo last month in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
“There is this reset between Qatar and Egypt, and one condition is for Qatar to dial back on support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas (the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,)” Schanzer told The Algemeiner. Other Arab Gulf countries have also been supportive of Cairo’s demands, Schanzer said.
Schanzer pointed out that “Hamas has been wandering since 2012,” when the organization departed from Syria, its main headquarters, because of the brutal civil war raging there. Many Hamas officials traveled onto Egypt and Qatar; with the removal from power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Qatar stood out as a country that would still, Schanzer said, provide “finance and a welcoming environment.”
If Hamas is compelled to shift its operations from Qatar, Schanzer said, Turkey would be the group’s obvious next destination. “Turkey is right now a stronger location than even Qatar for Hamas headquarters,” Schanzer said. “There are two senior leaders already there, as well as around a dozen mid-level operatives and at least two financiers.”
Schanzer named the two leaders as Imad Al Alami, a longstanding Hamas envoy to Iran, and Salah al Arouri, the head of the West Bank branch of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the so-called military wing of Hamas. Al Arouri is widely regarded as being responsible for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers who were hiking in the West Bank in June 2014.
“Mashaal’s arrival would cement the notion that Turkey is the top headquarters for Hamas,” Schanzer observed. “Whether he goes their voluntarily or because Qatar deports him, it would be undeniable that a NATO member state has become the leading sponsor of Hamas.”
Asked whether Turkey is in violation of the NATO Charter by hosting Hamas, Schanzer said there was a clear breach of the “spirit” of the western alliance, if not its rules.
“Technically, Turkey is operating within the legal boundaries of NATO and the UN, because Hamas is not designated terrorist group at the UN,” Schanzer said. “But NATO was designed to uphold the western fight against various threats, and I would think that terror organizations like Hamas would squarely fall within those parameters.”
Schanzer emphasized that support for Hamas was not the only problematic issue with regard to Turkish foreign policy. “Turkey has a huge Islamic State problem, as it’s the main jurisdiction for IS funding, weapons transfers and personnel transfers,” he said. “Turkey also helps Iran evade sanctions. When you look at the totality of Turkey’s foreign policy over the last few years, many serious questions are raised, including whether it’s a state sponsor of terrorism.”