- Turkish authorities allow the military wing of Hamas to operate from an office in Istanbul that deals with planning terror attacks and transferring funds to the organization’s activists in the West Bank.
- This office is run by the Beirut-based Saleh al-Arouri, vice-chairman of the political bureau of Hamas, with the assistance of Hamas activists released under the Shalit prisoner release deal in 2011.
Israel has been closely monitoring the connections between Turkey and the Hamas movement since the violent incident on the Turkish convoy ship Marmara in May 2010, when the close contacts between Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the then-chairman of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Mashal were first revealed.
The Justice and Development Party, led by Erdogan, is an offshoot of the international Muslim Brotherhood, which is also the inspiration for Hamas. Though Hamas announced that it cut ties with this movement, its contacts still continue. Hamas lowered its profile regarding its connection with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in order to make an approach to President Sisi’s regime to ease the closure of the Gaza Strip. Yet, it continues to be in contact with branches of the Muslim Brotherhood around the world. Quite simply, Hamas is playing a double game.
Hamas Transfers Funds to the West Bank via Turkey
Israel’s General Security Service (GSS) officially announced on February 12, 2018, that Hamas had been transferring funds to its activists in the West Bank via Turkey. Large sums were involved, to the tune of millions of dollars.
From GSS’ research, it had emerged that Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau and head of Hamas’ office in Turkey before being expelled when Turkey and Israel signed a reconciliation treaty, continues to pull strings. This, despite his recent relocation to the Hizbullah stronghold in the neighborhood of Dahiya in Beirut, Lebanon, where he serves as the liaison between the Hamas leadership and Iran.
One of al-Arouri’s supporters, Ziyad al-Jabarin, who was released as part of the Shalit deal in 2011 and operated under al-Arouri’s instructions, recruited the members of the network that were arrested by the GSS.
Last month, the GSS apprehended Kamil Takli, a Turkish citizen working as a law lecturer. According to information that Israel possesses, in recent years Takli was assisting Hamas activists, most of whom were deported under the Shalit deal, to settle in Turkey. He was involved in a money-laundering network, and after an investigation, he was deported from Israel. According to the British Times (February 13, 2018), Takli worked with a private military company, SADAT, headed by an advisor to Erdogan, Adnan Tanriferdi.
A week later, the GSS arrested Dirham Jabarin, who was involved in transferring funds. He traveled to Turkey several times, where he joined Hamas. Before he was arrested, he managed to transfer the sum of 200,000 euros to activists of the military wing of Hamas in the West Bank. An additional sum of 91,000 euros was found in his possession. The intended usage of this money was to fund terror activities against Israel. Jabarin is to stand trial in the near future.
From the GSS investigation, it also became apparent that Hamas activists in Turkey own a company called IMES, which Hamas uses as a front to launder capital worth millions of dollars that is transferred to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Prisoners Released Under the Shalit Deal Run the Hamas Bureau in Istanbul
The military wing of Hamas maintains an office in Istanbul, Turkey, that works closely with the Hamas “West Bank headquarters” in the Gaza Strip, which plans terror activities in the West Bank. One of the activists it works with is Forsan Khalifa, who is responsible for the northern region of the West Bank and operated the terror cell led by terrorist Ahmed Jarrar of Jenin, who murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach near Chavat Gilad in Samaria.
This Istanbul office operates with the knowledge and approval of Turkey’s security forces. Hamas’ liaison with the Turkish authorities is Jihad Yaghmour, a Hamas activist who was involved in the 1994 abduction of IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman and was also released under the Shalit deal.
Another Hamas activist released under the Shalit deal who works for the Hamas bureau in Istanbul is Salame Mara’i. Mara’i was involved in a shooting attack in 1993 in the Barkan area in the northern region of the West Bank during which an IDF soldier was murdered.
As part of discussions about a reconciliation agreement with Turkey, Israel demanded the closure of the Hamas office in Istanbul. Turkey refused this demand but agreed to deport office director Saleh al-Arouri from its territory. Al-Arouri was compelled to move to Qatar, from where he later relocated to Lebanon.
Al-Arouri continues to run the office long distance today. This office is responsible, among other things, for the abduction and murder of three Israeli youths in Gush Etzion in July 2014, an event that eventually led to the outbreak of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, and the operation of the terror cell that murdered Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in the Nablus region in October 2015.
Similarly, this Turkish office was in close contact with Mazen Faqha, also released under the Shalit deal, who worked with the “West Bank headquarters” in the Gaza Strip and planned terror attacks in the West Bank. Mazen Faqha was eliminated under mysterious circumstances at his home in Gaza in March 2017. Hamas claims that he was murdered by collaborators acting on behalf of Israel.
Istanbul Hamas Office behind Attempts to Undermine Arab Regimes
Saleh al-Arouri also operated a large terror network from the office in Turkey that was comprised of more than 60 activists in the West Bank. This network attempted to undermine the stability of the Palestinian Authority, and specifically of Mahmoud Abbas’ rule.
The GSS arrested members of this network, which had weapons and explosive materials in its possession. The then-leader of the GSS Yoram Cohen traveled personally to Ramallah to inform the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
Mahmoud Abbas thanked Israel for its assistance. The Palestinian security forces, which had no clue about the existence of the Hamas terror network that grew right under their noses, continued to arrest those of its members that were hiding within the borders of the Palestinian Authority.
The continued operation of the Hamas office in Istanbul, which still plans terror activities against Israel, is essentially in violation of the understandings between Israel and Turkey achieved at the signing of the reconciliation agreement between both countries. Israel recognizes the strategic importance of relations with Turkey and has not severed its ties with that country even though Hamas activities are taking place with the authorization of President Erdogan. Erdogan considers himself to be the most important leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood and has embraced the Hamas movement and its leaders.
President Erdogan hasn’t only given the green light to Hamas’ terror activities against Israel from Turkish territory. He also supports, with the ruler of Qatar, the terrorist activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS against the government of Egyptian President Sisi.
Currently, members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s vast terror network, which plotted in June 2013 with Turkish intelligence to bring down the Egyptian government in three stages, are standing trial in Egypt. The plot included carrying out terror attacks with booby-trapped cars in order to threaten the stability of the Egyptian government.