Hamas is deeply shocked by a Saudi court’s decision to send dozens of its activists to prison. They were arrested more than two years ago on suspicion of money laundering and smuggling funds to Hamas’ military-terrorist wing in the Gaza Strip, aided by money exchange companies in Turkey.
On August 8, 2021, the Saudi court published the sentences of 69 Hamas operatives living in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They were sentenced to various periods of imprisonment between six months and 22 years; five were found innocent and released.
Senior Hamas figure Dr. Mohammed al-Khoudary, 81, who was the head of Hamas’ branch in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In an official statement, Hamas condemned the sentences handed down to its operatives in Saudi Arabia.
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader abroad, has made efforts in recent months to approach Saudi Arabia, and expressed hope that the Saudi authorities would grant amnesty to his men. Senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar said that the sentence was “a Saudi response to the Zionist requests and that it was a political decision, not a legal one.” He added that Hamas was not closing the door to Saudi Arabia and was willing to restore relations with Saudi Arabia if interested.
Saudi Arabia defines Hamas as a terrorist movement just like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Success for Israel and the United States
It is said that the Trump administration and Israel were behind the Saudi activity against Hamas and succeeded in bringing about a complete disconnect between them. Hamas points to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as someone who adopted American-Israeli policy against the movement.
On September 12, 2019, senior Hamas figure Marwan Abu Ras told the Al-Khaleej Online website that Saudi Arabia was drawing closer to Israel and was opening the gates of normalization with it by arresting senior Hamas figures in the kingdom.
The arrest and conviction of Hamas operatives marks the end of the “Golden Age” between the Saudi royal household and the Hamas leadership.
Rift in Relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia
Hamas’ office in Saudi Arabia was opened in 1988 during the rule of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. Senior Hamas figure Mohammed al-Khoudary, who is currently detained in a Saudi prison, was appointed as the movement’s official representative.
In 1998, King Fahd hosted the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and permitted him to collect donations in the kingdom for the Gaza Strip, “You are in our hearts and we stand with you until the liberation of Jerusalem,” King Fahd was quoted at his reception for Sheikh Yassin.
The first rift in Saudi relations with Hamas began in 2007 after the Hamas movement forcibly took over the Gaza Strip and expelled the Palestinian Authority. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met several months later in Mecca and signed a reconciliation agreement near the Kaaba shrine. According to the Saudis, Hamas violated the agreement.
Since then, relations continued to deteriorate. In 2015, Saudi security officials arrested Maher Salah, a former Hamas leader abroad, and accused him of money laundering. He spent a year in a Saudi prison and was deported to Turkey.
In October 2016, the Saudi security forces detained senior Hamas figure Nizar Awadallah.
After President Trump declared Hamas a “terrorist organization” and following the inauguration of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia’s rough handling of the Hamas movement accelerated. In 2017, the Saudis adopted President Trump’s position, and in February 2018, the Saudi foreign minister declared Hamas a “terrorist organization.”
The last wave of arrests that began in April 2019 included dozens of Hamas operatives. It represents a significant change in the Saudi royal household’s attitude towards the Hamas movement.
Hamas sources accuse the United States and Israel of putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to detain Hamas operatives in the kingdom and to paralyze the movement’s fundraising activities. They blame the Saudi royal household for sticking a knife in Hamas’ back because of the closeness between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s advisor and son-in-law. The Crown Prince, Hamas claims, desired to get closer to Israel.
Hamas kept the detention of some 60 of its operatives in Saudi Arabia very quiet for five months. The news was initially reported in the Qatari press, but Hamas refused to provide confirmation and tried via diplomatic efforts through several Gulf states, and preferred working behind the scenes to secure the release of the detainees.
After Hamas concluded that the chances of bringing about the peaceful release of the detainees had been lost, it issued an official announcement on September 9, 2019, demanding the release of Muhammad al-Khoudary, the senior Hamas figure in Saudi Arabia, who was detained along with his son Hani.
According to Hamas sources, the movement was also assisted by former Palestinian official Muhammad Dahlan, who has a senior status among the Gulf States.
Hamas sources reported that the arrests of its operatives in the Saudi kingdom followed American-Israeli pressure and are based on intelligence provided by Israel to Saudi intelligence. Israel and the United States sought to dry up Hamas’ sources of funding in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s complete disregard for Hamas’ requests to release its detained operatives in their prisons testifies to its cooperation with the United States and Israel on the issue of fighting terrorism. Saudi Arabia needs the help of both countries to protect itself from the dangers of Iran and does not want to assist the Hamas movement, which is an ally of the Ayatollah regime in Tehran.
On September 10, 2019, the United States took a further step and imposed sanctions on senior Hamas figures and institutions abroad that dealt with money transfers to the organization in the Gaza Strip, including Marwan Mahdi Salah Al-Rawi, owner of Redin Exchange in Turkey, his deputy Ismael Tash, and his company, SMART, for imports and exports in Istanbul.1
Effort to Obtain Clemency
Hamas is now trying to act in the Arab and Islamic world to pressure the Saudi royal court to grant clemency to dozens of its operatives who are imprisoned.
The mission was assigned to Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, who has good relations with the Gulf States and is not considered close to Iran.
The first move will be an effort by Hamas to release Muhammad al- Khoudary, who, Hamas officials claim, has cancer.
Khoudary also has Kuwaiti citizenship and previously worked as the chief executive of Kuwait’s military hospital and held the rank of colonel in the Kuwaiti army.
Hamas sources claim that Mohammed al- Khoudary collected donations for the Hamas movement in Saudi Arabia with the knowledge of the Saudi authorities and did not act against the Saudi royal house.
They said al-Khoudary’s arrest was intended to improve the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the Biden administration blamed for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to portray bin Salman as fighting terrorism.
* * *