Putin ‘forming axis of terror’ as he welcomes Hamas and Iran to Moscow

Vladimir Putin sought to intervene in the Middle Eastern conflict on Thursday by inviting senior Hamas and Iranian leaders to Moscow.

In a move condemned by Israel as an “obscene step” that “gives support to terrorism”, Russian officials met with the terror group who praised them for taking an “active role” in the war.

Ali Bagheri Kani, the deputy foreign minister of Iran, the main foreign sponsor of Hamas, was also in Moscow for talks.

The developments have raised concern in the West that Russia has formed an “axis of terror” with Hamas, mediated by Iran. Hamas praised Putin personally for his “stance” on the conflict and “acknowledged the active role of Russian diplomacy” in talks over “the recent Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip and strategies to halt the Israeli crimes”.

A photograph released by Hamas showed Bassem Naeem, its head of international relations, and Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of the Hamas politburo, in a meeting with Mikhail Bogdanov, Putin’s special envoy in the Middle East. Western observers said the meetings suggested Putin had abandoned his long-standing alliance with Israel in favour of closer ties with Iran and its Islamist allies, who carried out the Oct 7 terror attacks on Israel and have stepped up a bombing campaign on American troops in the wider Middle East.

Lioir Hiat, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said Israel “sees the invitation of senior Hamas officials to Moscow as an obscene step that gives support to terrorism and legitimise the atrocities of Hamas terrorists”.

Speaking at the UN on Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister said the country was willing to “play its part” in securing the release of Hamas’s hostages, but called for an exchange with 6,000 Palestinians held by Israel.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran stands ready to play its part in this very important humanitarian endeavour, along with Qatar and Turkey,” he said.

“Naturally, the release of the 6,000 Palestinian prisoners is another necessity and responsibility of the global community.”

Both Russia and China have stopped short of condemning Hamas, and have called for a ceasefire that US officials say would allow Hamas to rest and regroup for a second assault.

On Thursday Israel’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan, Maya Yaron, reiterated her government’s disappointment with China for not condemning Hamas’ attacks against civilians. “This is actually something that is very disturbing with China,” she told reporters in Taipei.

However, Israeli leaders have said they intend to press on with a land offensive against Hamas, launching a raid in northern Gaza in an attempt to prepare the territory for a full-scale invasion. Footage from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) showed tanks, other armoured vehicles and bulldozers crossing into the besieged enclave and appearing to open fire.

An IDF statement said the brief “targeted raid” was part of “preparations for the next stage of combat,” while Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister, said that a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza was “not far off”.

Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday used a prime-time television address to say Israel’s “hellfire” had “already eliminated thousands of terrorists”, adding that every single member of Hamas was “doomed” and “this is only the beginning”. But Mr Gallant said Israel has “no interest in expanding the war” to include Iran or its other proxies in the region, beyond the current conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Analysts warned an emerging axis between Russia, Iran and Hamas could inflame tensions further in the region and extend to a wider conflict with Israel and its Western supporters, including the US and UK.

Kasra Aarabi, the director of IRGC research at United Against Nuclear Iran, said Russia and Iran were united by “hostility towards the West, the liberal rule based international order and liberal values” and that “a new and looming axis of terror against the West centred around the Iranian regime’s IRGC and Putin’s Russia may very well be on the horizon”.

“News of the Iran-backed Hamas terror group being welcomed in Moscow should be extremely concerning to the West,” he said.

Jonathan Harounoff, the communications director at The Jewish Institute for National Security of America, said the meetings “could spell trouble for a new alliance brewing, and a growing global splintering between East and West”.

“It could also signal Moscow’s readiness to abandon its longstanding ties with Israel in order to spread and benefit from chaos and conflict,” he added.

But Moscow appears to be looking for short-term gains while the Arab world is enraged by the lack of Western response to Israeli bombings of Gaza, Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre in Berlin, said. “The main messaging here is for the global Muslim community to show them: We’re on your side,” he said.

“They know they will score points by proving how hypocritical the West is right now, compared to how it acted in relation to Ukraine. They are not thinking yet about the damage that will be done to ties with Israel.” In a recent speech, Mr Putin blamed the violence in the Middle East on failures of US diplomacy, accusing Washington of failing to help to create a Palestinian state while offering “handouts” to the Palestinian people.

He also offered himself as a mediator between the two parties, claiming that “no one can suspect us of playing for the benefit of one of the parties.”

In response to recent attacks by Iran-backed groups in the region, the US announced yesterday it would deploy around 900 additional troops to bolster air defences. US troops have been attacked at least 12 times in Iraq and four times in Syria in the past week. The Pentagon confirmed on Thursday that 19 US troops had suffered traumatic brain injuries from the attacks.

The UK has sent RAF and Royal Navy resources to the region to bolster security efforts by the US, which has two aircraft carriers near Israel’s shores.

EU leaders on Thursday called for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” to get aid into Gaza, after hours of negotiations at a summit of the bloc in Brussels.

There were also signs of a possible fracture in the anti-Israel coalition of Islamist groups, as Hamas suggested Hezbollah was not fighting enough in the north.

Hezbollah is speculated to have been involved in the planning of the October 7 attack on Israel and has repeatedly traded cross-border fire with Israel in recent weeks, but has held back from a full-scale assault from Lebanon to date.

Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, met with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders on Wednesday to discuss how to achieve “victory” over Israel.

Originally Published in The Telegraph.