A New Middle East Alliance

Hamas Leader Gets Royal Welcome From Jordan's King

Neither Israel nor the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority are happy about the signs of a Hamas-Jordan rapprochement, each for its own reasons.

Last week's visit to Jordan by Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal, which was under-reported in the Israeli media, reflects the shifting alliances taking place in the Middle East. Meshal received a royal welcome in the palace in Amman, where he dined with King Abdullah.

The visit was Meshal's second to the Jordanian capital in six months and only his third since 1999, when the Hamas leadership was expelled from the kingdom for illegal activities. In January of this year, while Meshal was still scouting out new locales for the political leadership after fleeing from Damascus, he accompanied Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on a visit to Jordan. His hosts underplayed the importance of Meshal's visit, which the Jordanians agreed to only after some deliberation. This time, however, he was received with pomp and circumstance as the head of a large Hamas delegation.

The visit nearly coincided with that of a group of Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood members to the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip that was prompted, of course, by the movement's election victory in Egypt.

In his swearing-in speeches in Cairo on Saturday, President Mohammed Morsi called for the completion of the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Egyptian sources were quoted in Arab media outlets on Sunday as saying that no date had been set for renewing the talks between the Palestinian factions. It is clear, however, that Morsi's second-round election victory is a shot in the arm for Hamas, which sees it as bolstering its own position in the region.

Meshal presumably wants to move his headquarters from their temporary home in Qatar to Jordan. Neither Israel nor the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority are happy about the signs of a Hamas-Jordan rapprochement, each for its own reasons.

In other news, the firing of a missile in Sinai "from the east" and presumably from an intermediate range was reported in the media. Since even the Egyptian media did not accuse Israel of being behind the aggression, all signs are pointing to a test launch by either a Palestinian organization in the Gaza Strip or a Bedouin cell in the eastern Sinai.

For several months now Gazan militant factions have been treating Sinai as their backyard - a testing ground, military exercise range and a launching ground for terror attacks against Israel's southern Negev.

The latest alleged incident only adds to Israel's growing concern about the expanding weapons manufacturing capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In early June the Israel Air Force hit arms production lines in Gaza. As far back as about a year ago it was reported that the organizations have rockets capable of reaching the greater Tel Aviv area. The talk at the time was of Fajr rocket smuggled in from Iran, but the Palestinians are at the height of a sustained push to improve their homegrown rocket industry and the range of the projectiles. In the event of a further escalation, Israel will have to be prepared not only for rockets on the Dan region but also for attempts to fire into the area surrounding Ben-Gurion International Airport, as a scare tactic aimed at disrupting air travel.

The assassination in Damascus last week of Hamas official Kamel Ranaja would seem to fit in neatly with all of these reports. Hamas sources described Ranaja as a mid-level military official and suggested that his killing was tied to the assassination in Dubai in 2010 of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top Hamas commander, which has been attributed to Israel. The Palestinians even applied to the Jordanian authorities for permission to bury the new martyr within the Hashemite Kingdom.

But too many details don't add up: First, according to Syrian reports, Ranaja's body showed signs of extensive torture, an unlikely modus operandi for a special ops unit whose aim is to leave the scene as soon as the job is done. Second, Ranaja was apparently less important than the descriptions by the senior Hamas sources would indicate. And finally, in light of the bloody civil war in Syria, Damascus has long since stopped being the major transit center for Hamas' weapons smuggling operations. Israel should be much more worried about the smuggling route from the looted armories of the deposed Gadhafi regime in Libya to Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

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King Abdullah II of Jordan, left, welcoming Hamas’ Khaled Meshal at the Royal Palace in Amman.