By Jim Kouri
Ismail Haniya, head of the Hamas administration within the Gaza Strip, recently visited the Muslims nations of Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia. It was the first such series of visits since the violent coup which brought Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
According to an Israeli source, there were two aspects to Haniya’s trip: the official, which was prominent in his meetings with the heads of state in Turkey, Sudan and Tunisia, but absent from his visit to Egypt (where the heads of the regime did not meet with him), and the popular aspect, manifested in meetings with the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt) and the heads of the Islamic movements whose ideologies are close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood (IHH in Turkey, Al-Nahda in Tunisia).
The Israeli security think-tank Meir Amit’s assessment of the objectives of the Hamas visits were to strengthen the status of the de-facto Hamas administration and its ties with friendly countries, ensure closer relations with popular Islamist movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and to reinforce Ismail Haniya’s image as head of the Palestinian entity.
Hamas also wants to exploit the regional uprisings, especially the increase in strength of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the equally radical Islamist group Al-Nahda in Tunisia, as well as Turkey’s desire to extend its regional influence and promote its position in the Palestinian arena.
Beyond that, the regional unrest, especially the harm to Hamas’ relations with the “resistance” camp (Iran and Syria), has made it necessary for Hamas to find additional strategic support. Such support could, to a certain extent, balance its great (and continuing) reliance on the “resistance camp,” (especially with everything concerning its military buildup in the Gaza Strip).
During his visits, Ismail Haniya sent the message (aimed at the Palestinian Authority as well) that in the future Hamas would use the so-called Arab Spring to emphasize its radical ideology, which focuses on the “liberation of Palestine” through jihad. Haniya repeatedly stressed that Hamas would never recognize the “Israeli entity” and called on the Arab world to wage a jihad against Israel and establish a “Jerusalem army” to “liberate Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.”
His statements, spiced with anti-Semitic remarks in Tunisia, were generally well-received in the host countries, especially among Islamist movements and in “popular” forums, according to analysts at Meir Amit and the Law Enforcement Examiner’s Israeli source.
Throughout his tour Haniya maintained a high media profile, and his extremist positions on the conflict with Israel were widely and sympathetically reported. At a press conference in Rafah held on his return and in a report to the Hamas administration, he boasted about the positive outcome of the visits.
He said that they symbolized “breaking the political blockade” of Hamas and the Palestinian government, and boasted that Gaza had a revolutionary role in the Arab Spring. At the press conference in Rafah he said that he had returned to the Gaza Strip with “many good things” (possibly hinting at promises of practical support received during the tour). He added that he was planning another round of visits to the other Arab and Islamic countries which had invited him.
While in Egypt Haniya met with the secretary general of the Arab League, senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh al-Azhar, high-ranking officers in Egyptian general intelligence and lower-level functionaries in the Egyptian administration.
Haniya met with Muhammad Badie, the general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and with his deputy, Dr. Khairat al-Shater. It was one of a series of public meetings held this past year in the Gaza Strip and Cairo between high-ranking Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood figures.
Under former President Mubarak’s regime, however, the Muslim Brotherhood had to reduce its relations with Hamas to a minimum because of internal security considerations. Hamas regards its closer relations with the Muslim Brotherhood as a way to gain strength in its dealings with the Egyptian army and administration, and to improve its status in the internal Palestinian and pan-Arab arenas, according to the Meir Amit intelligence report.
Special thanks to friend and colleague, former U.S. police sergeant now a member of the Israeli National Police, Jeffrey Hochman.