Senior Hamas officials are calling for a new intifada against Israel and Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal is showing up in Turkey and Iran to prepare for it. Make no mistake: The timing of these trips is no coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that Hamas’ violent plans come right before planned Palestinian protests against Hamas on November 11.
Mashaal’s surprise visit to Turkey from Qatar (another U.S. “ally” that is Mashaal’s home base) is his first in two years. He is then going to Iran. His itinerary suggests that he is trying to round up a Sunni-Shiite Islamist bloc ahead of a planned confrontation.
Mashaal’s decision to first visit Turkey is indicative of the Islamist gravitation towards neo-Ottoman aspirations. While Iran has fallen out with Hamas due to the civil war in Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is the second most influential Muslim in the world, only behind the Saudi king.
“Turkey’s support for the people of Syria and Palestine is unforgettable. My brother Erdogan, thank goodness Allah gave you so much. And you deserve it. You are also a leader in the Muslim world,” Mashaal once said.
In 2010, Erdogan rejected the characterization of Hamas as a terrorist group. He said, “Hamas is a resistance group fighting to defend her land.”
Erdogan has been the most successful implementer of the Islamist doctrine of "gradualism." For most of his tenure, he has been able to simultaneously expand his popularity domestically while pursuing a sharia agenda. Internationally, he essentially became the king of the Islamists at the same time Turkey is treasured as a NATO member and U.S. “ally.”
But even Erdogan is not immune to the anti-Muslim Brotherhood wave that is sweeping the region. Demonstrations this summer were the biggest internal challenge to Erdogan since he came to power in 2002. Yet, Erdogan still stands by the Muslim Brotherhood and blames Israel for its overthrow in Egypt.
Erdogan isn’t simply playing to public opinion. He’s trying to shape it. The latest Pew poll shows that almost three-in-four Turks have a negative view of Hamas. A mere five percent view Hamas positively. Erdogan does not benefit politically from embracing Hamas.
The only explanation is that his true loyalty lies with the Islamist cause, including Hamas. It is not about politics. It is about ideology and long-term goals.
As Jonathan Spyer writes, “A broadcast featuring Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussing the crushing of the Brotherhood in Egypt had to be stopped recently when the Turkish leader began weeping uncontrollably.”
Arab Islamists see Erdogan as their leader, even though he is a Turk. And Erdogan is eager to lead them. His Islamist neo-Ottoman vision meshes with their Islamist Caliphate vision.
Hamas is looking to Turkey and Qatar to lead the Sunni Islamist movement, replacing Iran and Syria as its main patrons. That doesn’t mean that Hamas rejects Iranian support, though. In fact, Iran and Hamas have been trying to make amends.
Shortly before Hamas leaders began explicitly calling for a new intifada, the group met with representatives from Iran and Hezbollah. An agreement to form a new “axis of resistance” was announced. Mashaal’s trip to Iran indicates that a breakthrough has happened.
This is not a routine trip for the cameras.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.