Russia’s ambassador to Israel has said that his country does not consider the Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah to be terrorist organizations, as they have not carried out attacks on Russian territory or against Russian interests abroad.
In a June 9 interview with the Israeli Russian-language Channel 9 TV, Alexander Shein said, “We do not consider these organizations to be terrorist,” according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute media watchdog, which posted and translated the clip.
Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip, is dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish state and has fought three major rounds of conflict with Israel since seizing control of the enclave from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group in 2007.
Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, is a Shiite organization backed by Iran. It last fought a full-blown war with Israel in 2006. Earlier this month, the US Justice Department said it arrested two men tied to the organization who had been plotting attacks against Americans and Israelis in the US and Panama.
Both groups are considered by Israel, the US and much of the West to be terror organizations.
Shein said both were “radical organizations, which sometimes adhere to extremist political views,” but explained that Russian law defined terrorist organizations as those who “intentionally conduct acts of terror in Russian territory, or against Russian interests abroad – installations, embassies, offices, or citizens.”
Over 1 million Russian-speakers from the former Soviet Union live in Israel and Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted Israel’s position as an outpost of Russian culture given the large number of Russian speakers living there.
“Russia and Israel have developed a special relationship primarily because 1.5 million Israeli citizens come from the former Soviet Union, they speak the Russian language, are the bearers of Russian culture, Russian mentality,” Putin said last year.
Shein rejected a comparison of the groups to the Islamic State jihadist group and said Hamas rocket fire on Israeli cities during the 2014 Gaza war, was not terror “at all,” despite also affecting Russians.
“You equate ISIS [with Hamas and Hizbullah], but we think this is wrong,” he said. He said he condemned the rocket fire — “of course” — and was then asked, “That’s all you can say? There are bad terrorists and good terrorists?”
“No,” replied Shein, “we do not consider them to be terrorists at all.”
Russia and Hezbollah are both fighting alongside Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Hamas enjoys support from Iran, which is also a key ally of Russia in the Syrian fighting.