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Hamas – Saudi Arabia Hostility: How has the Israel Hamas War Shifted Regional Dynamics

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Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh. Credit: “הצינור” FB page.

The recent visit of Hamas leaders, including its Chair Ismail Haniyeh, to Saudi Arabia in April 2023  raised speculation about the evolving dynamics in the Middle East. This visit was particularly intriguing given the severed ties between Saudi Arabia and Hamas since 2007, marked by tensions arising from perceived connections between Hamas, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Examining this visit in the broader context of regional relations reveals a  landscape that goes beyond the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Hamas in Saudi Arabia: From Strained Relations to a “Closer Dance”

The visit of the Hamas delegation to Saudi Arabia is a significant departure from the strained relations that followed the 2007 disruption. The historical context, including the 2014 Saudi listing of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and rhw subsequent arrests of its members, including Hamas affiliates, sheds light on the complexities of this diplomatic dance. The recent shift raises questions about whether Saudi Arabia is shifting its stance towards political Islam and, by extension, its relations with Iran.    

Saudi Arabia’s Evolving Relations in the Region

Ibrahim Raisi and Muhamad Bin Salman. Credit: CGTN FB page.

The timing of the Hamas visit coincides with broader regional developments that indicate a Saudi effort to reduce tensions and hostility with neighbouring countries. The renewed ties with Qatar, the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran, and the outreach to Turkey suggest a strategic shift in Saudi foreign policy. This change aims to facilitate large-scale projects and internal development, aligning with the vision outlined in Saudi Vision 2030.

Hamas’ Strategic Evolution: A Bid for Recognition

In 2021, Hamas unveiled a new strategy aimed at bringing down the Palestinian Authority from within and positioning itself as the central figure in the Israel-Palestine equation. The group sought recognition as the legitimate Palestinian address, boosted by extensive aid from Iran. The expressions of gratitude from Hamas leaders to Iran, notably during speeches by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, showed the deepening ties between Hamas and Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s Balancing Act

Mousa Abu Marzouk’s assertion that Hamas remains an independent organization, not tied to any specific axis, reflects Saudi Arabia’s sensitivity to political alliances in the region. The kingdom seems to be navigating a delicate balancing act, maintaining relations with Hamas while attempting to ease concerns about its alignment with the Iran-led “axis of resistance.” The parallel invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas adds another layer to Saudi Arabia’s evolving policy, suggesting a desire for a balanced approach.

Saudi Arabia’s Regional Stability Imperative

Saudi Arabia’s historical role as a stabilizing force in the Middle East is undergoing a reevaluation. The kingdom’s pursuit of stability is not only driven by regional dynamics but is also crucial for attracting foreign investment and developing the tourist industry, as outlined in Saudi Vision 2030. The recent diplomatic initiatives, including the end of the Qatar boycott and the renewal of ties with Iran, reflect Saudi Arabia’s commitment to ensuring a stable environment for economic diversification.

Implications for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Arab Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia, Nov 2023. Credit: CGTN FB page.

Amid these regional shifts, Saudi Arabia is poised to host summits of Arab and Islamic nations to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The aim is to drive towards a peaceful resolution. However, Iran’s invitation to the summit introduces a controversial element, given the historical tensions between Tehran and Riyadh and Iran’s consistent threats towards Israel and its allies.

The Israel-Hamas war’s impact on regional relations goes beyond the immediate conflict, reaching into the complex web of alliances and geopolitical considerations in the Middle East. The Hamas visit to Saudi Arabia serves as a symbol of evolving dynamics, prompting questions about Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy realignment and its implications for regional stability. As Saudi Arabia navigates this delicate dance, the broader region watches closely, aware that the outcome could reshape long standing alliances and influence the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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