Russia trying to get Hamas to release them with Iranian help, but Israel may have its own agenda
Given the grim situation in Gaza and the unwillingness of governments to go beyond rhetoric and actively intervene on behalf of the Gazans, the only way out is to convince Hamas to release the hostages.
Backed to the hilt by the might of the United States, Israel insists that it will continue its brutal bombardment of Gaza till Hamas releases the 200-odd hostages. And since Hamas is getting no external military support whatsoever, it cannot win the war.
The only realistic option left for Hamas is to release the hostages and with the help of the world powers to get Israel to stop the offensive and accept a Two-State solution with security guarantees for itself and Palestine.
But even though Israel has told the Americans that it will agree to a ceasefire if Hamas releases the hostages, it is widely believed that it has a hidden agenda of ethnically cleansing Gaza of Palestinians and planting Israeli Jews there. The ferocity of the Israeli counter- offensive tantamount to a genocide is partly explained by this aim. If this so, Israel could be expected to bargain hard if it is to accept a ceasefire and a return to normalcy.
Be that as it may, a report in the journal Politico dated October 27 made it clear that Hamas is not opposed to releasing the hostages and that the Russians have been trying to get Hamas to do it.
Abu Hamid, a representative of Hamas told the Russian state-controlled Kommersant newspaper late last month, that Hamas “needs time to locate all the hostages in Gaza.”
“We captured dozens of people, most of them civilians, and we need time to find them in the Gaza Strip and then liberate them,” Hamid said.
He also said that about 50 of the hostages were killed in the retaliatory Israeli airstrikes against Gaza.
A Hamas team, led by Mousa Abu Marzook, a founder and political leader of the militant group, was visiting Moscow at the invitation of the Russians.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Putin’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov, were involved in the Moscow talks held on October 26.
Abu Hamid described the Russian Federation as a “friendly country maintaining relations with all representatives of the Palestinian people.”
“We are always ready to consult with [it] on various issues,” Hamid added.
As expected, Israel slammed Russia for welcoming the Hamas delegation and asked Moscow to expel it.
The Russian foreign ministry said the talks with Hamas focused on the release of the hostages and the evacuation of foreign citizens from Gaza.
Russia also “reaffirmed its unchanged position” in favour of the establishment of a Palestinian state during the talks.
Since the escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Moscow has repeatedly warned against an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, which Russian President Vladimir Putin said would lead to a broader regional conflict. Putin has also blamed the US for escalating the conflict.
One of the takeaways from the Moscow-Hamas talks is that a ceasefire or even a “humanitarian pause” in Israel’s military operations should help Hamas “locate” the hostages and release them to the Israelis.
This should help Israel end the assault on Gaza because it had told the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the operations will not stop so long as Hamas is holding hostages.
However, the Israelis and the US may not like the Russians to interfere and walk away with the credit.
Iran Washes its Hands
Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, told CNN interviewer Bianna Golodryga that Iran was not responsible for Hamas’ attacks on Israel or any strikes in the region either against Israel or American forces in the area, including by Hezbollah, its close ally, in Lebanon.
“They are not receiving orders from us. They act according to their own interests,” he said about the militant groups.
Therefore, with Iran also washing its hands off the problem, it is up to the Russians to do what they can to get Hamas to release the hostages and bring the curtains down on the Gazan tragedy.
Could India Play a Role?
The antipathy to Russia in Israel and the US should open the door for a diplomatic intervention by India, the leader of the Global South and an acknowledged Apostle of Peace. But India continues to support Israel, choosing to condemn Hamas’ “terrorism” but refusing to even mention the brutal Israeli counter-offensive now openly condemned as “genocide”.
On November 6, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs website said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation with the Iranian President Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi in which they exchanged views on the “difficult situation” in West Asia and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The website said that Modi “expressed deep concern at the terrorist incidents, violence and loss of civilian lives. He reiterated India’s longstanding and consistent position on the Israel-Palestine issue.”
On his part, the Iranian President “shared his assessment of the situation.”
“Both leaders emphasised the need for preventing escalation, ensuring continued humanitarian aid and early restoration of peace and stability. Both sides agreed to remain in touch given the shared interest in regional peace, security and stability,” the website added.
The official Indian account of the Modi-Raisi conversation indicates that there is no common Indo-Iranian ground on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Iran does not look at it as a terrorist problem while India does so.
The conversation also indicates that India cannot intercede with Hamas having portrayed itself as a full-fledged backer of the Israeli position that the ongoing conflict is basically a problem of terrorism.
India has thus lost its traditional ability to intercede and be a mediator. Given the current requirement to get Hamas to release the hostages, India has no scope to take the role of a peace-maker. There is little or no hope of New Delhi’s changing its position given its overriding concern with “terrorism”.