Interview'This war here is not a localized conflict'

Baltic MPs: Hamas is in Iran-Russia ‘axis of evil,’ Europe must reevaluate its policy

After visiting Be’eri and Re’im massacre sites, 3 parliamentary foreign affairs committee heads say EU should reexamine its ‘bipartisan’ stance toward Israel and the Palestinians

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Outside of bunker in which Re'im musical festival attendees were murdered by Hamas stand: Latvian MP Rihards Kols, Knesset Speaker MK Amir Ohana, IDF Col (Res) Golan Vach, Estonian MP Marko Mihkelson, MK Yuli Edelstein, Lithuanian MP Žygimantas Pavilionis, October 17, 2023. (Courtesy: MK Yuli Edelstein)
Outside of bunker in which Re'im musical festival attendees were murdered by Hamas stand: Latvian MP Rihards Kols, Knesset Speaker MK Amir Ohana, IDF Col (Res) Golan Vach, Estonian MP Marko Mihkelson, MK Yuli Edelstein, Lithuanian MP Žygimantas Pavilionis, October 17, 2023. (Courtesy: MK Yuli Edelstein)

ASHKELON — The Hamas terror group ruling the Gaza Strip is part of an Iranian-Russia anti-liberal axis, according to parliamentarians from Baltic states who on Tuesday visited sites of Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which killed over 1,300 in Israel, with a further 200 or so kidnapped to Gaza.

The heads of parliamentary foreign affairs committees from Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia also said that they believed “disinformation” is rampant in Europe about the incident that sparked a war between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups, and that it is time for the broader European Union to reevaluate its policies vis-a-vis Palestinians and Israel.

“Hamas is just a proxy for Iran’s regime, and Iran’s regime for the past two years has been closely cooperating with Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine,” said Rihards Kols, chairman of the Latvian Saeima’s Foreign Affairs Committee, connecting the Palestinian terror group to broader violent, anti-liberal actors.

“This is the axis of evil that is forming in front of us,” he added.

“There is a chain of terrorism from Russia to Iran to Hamas,” echoed Marko Mihkelson, who chairs the equivalent committee for the Estonian Riigikogu, shortly after visiting the site where some 260 people attending a music festival in Re’im were massacred, and the remnants of Kibbutz Be’eri, where about 100 Israelis were killed and 70 dragged as hostages into Gaza.

“We have to understand that this war here is not a localized conflict,” he added.

Eight children were found dead in this house at Kibbutz Be’eri, killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (David Horovitz/Times of Israel)

The two parliamentarians, alongside colleague Žygimantas Pavilionis from Lithuania, visited Israel on a solidary trip organized by Likud MK Yuli Edelstein. The three, whose countries are on the frontline of concern triggered by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, all said they visited atrocity sites in Ukraine like Bucha and Irpin, and that their impression was that Hamas’s shocking assault set new standards for brutality.

“I still haven’t comprehended what I’ve seen, in the kibbutz and the Nova Festival site, I still can’t comprehend that it is something that can be done by humans,” said Latvia’s Kols. “It’s not just what they did, it’s with what intention.”

Lithuania’s Pavilionis said the massacre sites reminded him of the “Ponary Holocaust killing site in Lithuania, where 95 percent of Vilna Jews were killed in my own country,” saying that “if we do not react now, we feel like it’s 1939,” referring to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland, which touched off World War II.

In Be’eri and Reim, he said, “it seems that the level of killing of civilians is different… this level of hate and [desire for] extinction is much deeper. You feel 100% annihilation as its purpose.”

As a former journalist who covered the Chechen War in the 1990s, Estonia’s Mihkelson said that, “for me it’s not entirely new, but what I saw in Be’eri and in the party area shocked me to the deepest corner of my heart.”

File: Israeli soldiers walk past houses destroyed by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri on the Gaza border, October 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“I have a 20-year-old daughter, and I just couldn’t stop thinking that this could have been her,” he added, saying that a young female Estonian citizen was killed at the festival.

“To see it, to smell it,” he said, grimacing.

While expressing their personal, and sometimes parliamentary, condemnation of Hamas’s attack, the Baltic lawmakers said that a combination of concern for a blossoming humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as well as rampant disinformation, colors their domestic conversations on the war.

In Latvia, Kols said, there is “strong condemnation of what Hamas terrorists did, and then you can sense ‘but.'”

While in the first few days after the attack, “everyone called a spade a spade,” the focus has since shifted to humanitarian concerns for Gaza’s civilian population, among Israeli air raids and reports of Hamas attacking fleeing civilians and stealing humanitarian aid.

“There is a lot of disinformation and stereotypes” influencing the conversation in Latvia, said Kols. “There were those who started to say that ‘no, this is staged, this is fake,'” he added, regarding eye-witness accounts of decapitated Israeli babies.

Additionally, there are “apologists for [the October 7 attack] saying Israel is getting what it deserves because of how they treated Palestinians for years.”

“I think that Israel has to understand that this fight is not only on the ground here but also in informational space,” said Estonia’s Mihkelson.

Interior of the gutted Haran home on Kibbutz Be’eri, blown up by terrorists during Hamas’ onslaught on October 7, 2023. (Aviv Havron)

When it came to broader European Union policy, which, according to the parliamentarians, has sought to hew to a “bipartisan approach” to Israel and the Palestinians, the three argued for a reexamination.

“I think this is time to really reevaluate the talking points that the EU has had. Some states still don’t consider Hamas as a terrorist organization,” Mihkelson said. “We should reconsider our points and positions.”

“I’m raising my own questions in Lithuania about whether it is really right to play this bipartisan game, because how can you really be bipartisan when you see things close to the Holocaust?” said Pavilionis.

“I think we’ll have to revise our so-called Palestinian support policy,” he said.

Tying a shift in strategy back to Europe’s fear of expanded Russian invasion and Moscow’s alliance with Iran, Pavilionis said that the current war “is much bigger than Hamas, this is much bigger than Israel, this is much more about the region and Iran, which is flexing its revolutionary inhumane muscles.”

“The only comparison that I can see is that the democratic part of the world united to eradicate ISIS and this is something we have to do with Hamas,” added Latvia’s Kols.

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