Increasing security fears threatening Hamas’ presence in Turkey

Huda al-Husseini

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Hamas now says that it supports a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, without recognizing Israel’s existence. Hamas has depleted its funds and has impoverished the lives of Gaza’s population; it does not have a modern strategy, its leadership is looking for what it has already lost, and it insists on trying to outsmart others. However, it seems that countries have many other priorities that are more important than Hamas.

Turkey has been one of the most important news subjects in the past could of years, whether it was last summer’s attempted coup, the referendum that gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan new powers, his dismissal of thousands of civil servants, or the media facing a clear and harsh battle. Erdogan’s administration was never out of the spotlight yet there was a news story that has not received much attention, namely Turkey’s relationship with the Palestinian Hamas movement. In recent years, Hamas leaders have been forced to relocate their leaders from Syria due to the war, to Qatar and from Qatar to Turkey. Erdogan’s regime has had a long and positive relationship with the Palestinian group, with both its political branch where the leaders’ houses are located in Ankara and where their travels are facilitated, or the military branch that has been for years welcomed by the Turkish government. Turkey welcoming the military branch of Hamas is the most interesting part.

Until recently, Hamas had taken this attention from the Turkish side as an existing act, which is living in security and working without restrictions in Turkey. The active group in Hamas was the most to enjoy this. However, recent information reveals that they are threatened to the extent that their comfortable sense of security in Turkey has been crushed.

This drastic change in the atmosphere and climate is clearly based on recent events in the region. Sources related to this issue said that Hamas activists in Turkey had presented reports to the Turkish authorities that there are some who are being followed and who received death threats. The reports describe the incidents as brutal and in a growing level of violence with time.

This raises the question of whether these signs of violence are similar to those that emerged in Tunisia before the assassination of a Hamas member there, namely Engineer Mohammed al-Zawawi, who was responsible of the manufacture of the Ababeel unmanned drones and who was killed last December.

Hamas feeling at increasing risk

Hamas activists in Turkey felt they could not risk their personal security, especially given their busy schedules in securing funds for the movement in every possible way, working on electronic military mechanisms or coordinating further training and rehabilitation.

A specialist analyst says that before they were harmed in Turkey, they were afraid because they saw what happened earlier in Tunisia. He added: “What happened in Tunisia had a big impact on Hamas activities in other countries and Turkey was not different from any other. Consequently, they should have asked questions related to security, about who is following them, who is taking care of them and who is protecting them when they move abroad. Then they started to receives threats.” The source that spoke to Hamas members in Turkey said: “They know that no one is providing them with any security measures, neither Hamas leadership nor the Turkish authorities”. According to the source, this has created tension between the military wing and the political branch of Hamas in Turkey.

It is true that Hamas is close to President Erdogan and his aides, and his recent history confirms that, but in light of the current situation, Hamas is left alone to defend itself in Turkey.

Huda al-Husseini

This kind of violence cannot be disregarded by local authorities, especially by a strong sovereign country like Turkey. The fact that the regime does not make any exception in protecting Hamas, holds many meanings.

Ankara is certainly aware of the recent events that are worrying Hamas activists in Turkey, but it is difficult to blame Ankara for not taking more measures to protect Hamas members that are in the country, even though Turkish intelligence experts estimate that recent events in Tunisia may happen again on their own soil. However, it is clear that Turkish intelligence experts have bigger issues to worry about, given that the war in Syria is not expected to end anytime soon and the new leadership of Hamas has decided to cut its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. There is also the issue of the ISIS group which is still moving through Turkey for its activities. Besides, Hamas’ strong relations with Iran are well known and Turkey does not need groups that it does not trust on its territories.

External factors

The Turkish authorities announced last Sunday that they have arrested an Iranian citizen who was smuggling elements from the Russian anti-tank missile system, in order to hand them over to terrorist groups. The Department of Customs said that on the 27th of last month, following the inspection of a truck in the Black Sea region of Zonguldak, coming from Ukraine and was supposedly carrying diapers, they discovered that it was carrying the main components of Russian-made anti-tank missile systems used by ISIS fighters and Kurdish rebels.

Also on Sunday, Iranian oppositionist Saeed Karimian was assassinated in Istanbul along with his Kuwaiti partner. Thus, Tehran asked Ankara to investigate the case because Karimian is an Iranian citizen.

There are also Russian proposals to establish four low-tension areas in Syria: Idlib, the northern city of Homs, the eastern Ghouta and the south of the country.

Turkey noted that after bombing the Kurds in Syria, Russia and the United States deployed additional troops on its borders with Syria to protect the Kurds from further raids. Turkey realized that the only factor that may urge the Americans and Russians to cooperate in Syria are the Kurds, whom America considers as “US troops on the ground,” and therefore they need support. Perhaps, what is comforting them is that every previous partnership between the Kurds and the Russians did not end well.

In addition to all the Turkish security concerns, there are the European positions regarding the Turkish policies. Hence, the Turkish government does not prioritize Hamas’ problems at this time. Erdogan and his ministers have rather put their citizens first, and they are focusing on protecting them from ISIS and European policies that might harm them. They are also working on addressing the refugee crisis on their territories and in their own homes, then they will deal with Iran’s problems that are stretched beyond the borders, the Russian stances that are unclear and the US stances that are severe. Moreover, Erdogan is getting ready to visit China to sign trade agreements that protect the Turkish economy.

All of this leaves no time for Ankara to worry about the personal security of a foreign entity that it had already allowed in Turkey, to discover later on that this entity has a branch working with Iran. It is true that Hamas is close to President Erdogan and his aides, and his recent history confirms that, but in light of the current situation, Hamas is left alone to defend itself in Turkey, and there are certainly those who might benefit from this situation.

This article first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat on May 04, 2017.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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