The shock of Hamas’ surprise attack on and incursion into Israel on October 7 that systematically targeted and killed more than 1,300 civilians and triggered a war with Israel, quickly reverberated around the world, splitting some 100 countries that released an official statement on the matter into three camps: those that unequivocally condemn Hamas’ undeniable act of terrorism and support Israel’s right to defend itself, those that condemn violence on both sides but decry Hamas, and those who put the blame on Israel and/or outright support Hamas, writes Sam M. Hadi.
Official statements from the state of Malaysia and its Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, echoed sentiments of the small albeit firm latter group, blaming Israel for the confrontation, and not only omitting critical statements of Hamas but outright refusing to yield on the matter at the request of Western countries. Indonesia is the only other Muslim-majority nation in Southeast Asia that voiced similar opinions to Malaysia. In the Middle East and North Africa region, Iran, Syria and Algeria—unsurprisingly—expressed their support for Hamas while Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan condemned Israel. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy stand on the opposite end of the spectrum, whose officials jointly and strongly condemned Hamas and pledged their countries’ support for Israel. Member States of the European Union joined a broader Western group of countries as part of a joined statement issued by the European Council. In a show of unwavering support, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola travelled to Israel on October 13 to express their solidarity.
Malaysia’s stance is particularly problematic in light of previous reports that uncovered a training program in Malaysia from 2012 that coached Hamas fighters on how to fly powered parachutes. One of the novelties of Hamas’ coordinated attack on Israel was the launch of multiple motorized paragliders into Israel, who descended to kill people indiscriminately, including attendees of the Nova music festival, among whom more than 250—mostly young—people were massacred. Hamas militants killed children, women and elderly people on Israel’s streets, in their homes, and dragged nearly 200 hostages to the Gaza Strip.
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is the only state leader, beside Iran, that acknowledged its ties with Hamas, declaring in the follow-up to the attack that “[Malaysia has] a relationship with Hamas from before, and this will continue.” The prime minister, his deputy, and the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs all conflated Hamas’ terrorist attack with a legitimate Palestinian resistance movement to settling Palestinians’ long-standing historical disagreements with Israel. “The struggle to liberate the land and rights of the Palestinian people will remain a core priority of the Malaysian government’s foreign policy”, according to Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Arguments that Hamas’ terror attack was justified due to years of frustration in the wake of Israel’s security policies towards the Gaza Strip are based on completely dubious foundations. Hamas’ Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement from 1988 expressly founded the organization for the purpose of the obliteration of Israel through Jihad, also calling for the killing of Jews and rejecting any and all peace initiatives for the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Support for and indeed any affiliation with Hamas are contradictory to the EU’s most cherished normative principles, which, alongside the bloc’s economic prowess, has distinguished the organization as a steadfast and effective actor in the world. Counter-terrorism constitutes one of the pillars of the EU’s External Action and the distinction between the terrorist group Hamas and Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip must be made clearly.
The EU’s widely known commitment to promoting democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its external relations, including in its foreign economic policies, should also be applied to Malaysia. While negotiations between Malaysia and the EU on a potential Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have been stalled since 2012, they did finalize a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in December 2022, strengthening cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, energy as well as politics. Following a period of decline during the years of the pandemic, the value of imports from the EU to Malaysia reached 35.3 billion EUR (37.2 billion USD) in 2022, making up 12.6% of all imports and concentrated in electronic equipment, machinery and nuclear components. In turn, Malaysia’s exports to the EU grew by a significant 21.8% in 2022.
The EU should emphasize its common values in its economic relations with Malaysia, especially in light of the potential expansion of trade and investment ties between them. Should the Malaysian government continue to support Hamas, the EU should make it clear that Malaysia’s economic relations with the European bloc will suffer as a result.
Of course, a corresponding cost of economic restrictions is political in nature. The insistence of the Malaysian government on its ties with Hamas and their continued rhetorical support for the terrorist organization should result in a degree of political isolation by the EU and, more broadly, its Western partners, including the United States, a long-standing ally and one of the largest trading partners of Malaysia.
The recognition of Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian resistance movement by Malaysia’s government officials not only blurs the lines between terrorists and Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip, but provides a platform for an organization whose explicit goals are to cause destruction and sow chaos. With the statements of Prime Minister Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Hamidi, Malaysia has joined a small albeit notable group of pariah countries and leaders in granting support to Hamas, including the likes of the radical Islamist regime of Iran, Syria’s war criminal President Assad and Algeria’s pro-Russian President Tebboune.
Sam M. Hadi is a graduate of Trisakti University in Jakarta where he studied management. He is now working as a freelance columnist and foreign policy analyst.
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