Russia’s Growing Soft Power in the Middle East

Over the past years, in addition to its military campaign in Syria and its attempt to establish itself as a sympathetic mediator between the Taliban and other Afghan groups, the Kremlin has worked in less direct ways to increase its influence throughout the Middle East. Shay Attias explains:

[T]he decrease in America’s standing in the Middle East works to enhance Russia’s position as a regional peace broker. Vladimir Putin has put Russia in a preeminent regional position through the classical hard-power tool of fighting in Syria while simultaneously talking “peace” with the Taliban, who are still killing Americans. This is not a random success. As early as 2012, Putin was already openly discussing [such efforts].

Russia has also built up the international media channel RT, formerly known as “Russia Today.” RT is working hard on its Arabic service—RT Arabic is one of the largest TV networks in the region (along with Al Jazeera). Labeled “Putin propaganda” by the U.S., RT has had much success at pushing the Russian perspective. . . . RT Arabic has 6.3 million monthly users in six Arabic-speaking countries: Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan.

If there is in fact a soft-power battle between Russia and the U.S. in the Middle East, most [indicators] suggest that Moscow has the momentum. Two recent regional polls show that Arabs aged eighteen to twenty-four increasingly view Russia as an ally and the U.S. as unreliable or worse. The percentage of young Arabs who see the U.S. as an ally dropped from 63 percent in 2016 to 35 percent last year. Russia is increasingly regarded as the top non-Arab ally by young people in the Middle East, with 20 percent seeing it as the region’s best friend outside the Middle East and North Africa.

Unless Washington pushes back, concludes Attias, it will soon find itself at a significant disadvantage.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Middle East, Russia, Syria, Taliban

 

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority