The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Ankara is allowing Hamas to continue operating from Turkish territory against Israel. Israel can and should thwart such Turkish violations of the reconciliation agreement between the two countries.

Even after the reconciliation agreement between Turkey and Israel was signed in June 2016, Ankara and Hamas continued to maintain a close relationship – despite the fact that Turkey committed itself to ending terror activities against Israel from its territory. Nevertheless, a Hamas presence in Turkey continued even after Salah Aruri, Hamas’ key operative in the country, left at the end of 2015 due to Israel’s demand as a prerequisite to signing the reconciliation agreement. Sources in Israel claim that the Turkish government “is not succeeding in preventing Hamas activity in its country – either because it isn’t trying hard enough or because it chooses to ignore it.”

Turkey’s assistance to Hamas stems mainly from a shared ideology. Hamas and President Erdogan’s political party are “spiritual descendants” of the world-wide Muslim Brotherhood movement. After the Hamas movement took violent control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Turkey widened its ties to the movement and conducted direct talks with Hamas’ high-level representatives such as Khaled Mashal and Ismail Haniyeh.

Cooperation with Hamas, positions Erdogan as the protector of Jerusalem and the Palestinians. It undermines Jordan’s status as protector of the holy sites on the Temple Mount. In addition, Erdogan’s efforts are designed to defy the pragmatic Arab Sunni camp – to which Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority belong. Erdoğan views himself as the leader of Sunni Islam and aspires to restore Turkey to its former Ottoman Empire glory. Therefore, he feels that he can use the Palestinian playing field to significantly promote these aspirations.

Hamas invests much effort in recruiting Palestinian students who go abroad to study, in Muslim countries in general and Turkey in specific. These students are then sent for military training in Lebanon or Syria and from there return to the Judea-Samaria territories with the goal of organizing terror attacks against Israel. In addition, Hamas in Turkey uses workers and activists belonging to supposed Turkish humanitarian organizations who operate on behalf of the Palestinians, generally in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas military wing has a headquarters in Istanbul which works closely with Hamas’ Judea-Samaria headquarters in the Gaza Strip. The goal: to mastermind terror attacks in these areas. The office in Turkey acts under authorization of Ankara’s security agents. Hamas’ contact person with the Turkish government is Hamas activist Jihad Ya’amur who was involved in the October 1994 abduction of IDF soldier Nahshon Waxman. Ya’amur was later released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal of October 2011. Another Hamas activist who was released in the Shalit deal and operates from an Istanbul office is Salameh Meri; he was involved in a terror- shooting attack in 1993 in Samaria, in which an IDF soldier was murdered.

The headquarters in Turkey is also connected to the Hamas operative in charge of the northern Judea-Samaria region, Forsan Khalifa. Khalifa operated a terror cell headed by terrorist Ahmad Jarrar from Jenin who murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevah near the Gilad Farm in Samaria in January 2018. In addition, the office in Turkey was in close contact with Mazan Fukha, another operative released in the Shalit deal who worked from the Judea-Samaria headquarters in the Gaza Strip to direct terror acts in the region.

Even before Salah Aruri was expelled from Turkey, the Hamas headquarters in the country operated a terror network of more than 60 operatives in Judea-Samaria. This network worked to destabilize the Palestinian Authority. Thus, it became public news in August 2014 that Israel’s Shin Bet had foiled Hamas’ attempt to overturn the regime of Mahmoud Abbas in Judea-Samaria. Part of Hamas’ plan was to send synchronized terror cells from Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Jericho and 37 additional Palestinian villages to carry out harsh terror attacks on the Authority’s institutions, then take complete control of Judea and Samaria.

In February 2017, a Hamas operative Malak Nazar Yousseff Kazmar was arrested in Israel. He had received training in Syria with the goal of carrying out terror attacks in Israel, after he met with Hamas operatives in Istanbul who directed him to recruit other operatives to the movement. In that same month, the manager of the Gaza Strip branch of a Turkish humanitarian assistance organization (Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency or TIKA), Muhammad Murtaja, was arrested at the Erez Crossing on suspicion of working in Hamas’ military wing. According to the Shin Bet, the operative had been sent by the Turkish organization to find information that would help Hamas improve the accuracy of the rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The IHH Turkish organization (Humanitarian Relief Foundation), which was responsible for the Marmara flotilla and labelled a terror organization by Israel, directly helps underwrite the activities of Hamas’ military wing. Head of the IHH Gaza Strip branch Mehmet Kaya transferred cash from Turkey to Hamas officials Ismail Haniyeh and Raad Saad. Part of the money was used to build a facility in a Hamas post for naval combat training, as well as for the acquisition of equipment and weapons. In this way the IHH organization systematically sent money to Hamas’ military wing over the course of many years, thus strengthening Hamas’ military presence.

In April 2018, the Shin Bet thwarted terror attacks in Israel which had been planned by Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip. In 2017, two operatives visited Hamas people in Turkey where one of the Gaza Strip people received thousands of dollars. In February 2018, Israel arrested Hamas operatives; the interrogation revealed that in 2012, one of them had been asked to assist other Hamas operatives in Turkey. Another Hamas activist from the Gaza Strip received hundreds of thousands of euros from his handlers in Turkey for the organization’s military terror infrastructure. He concealed the money in a hiding place in Judea-Samaria.

Another way that Turkey helps build up Hamas’ military might is through a security advisory company called SADAT. This company was founded in Turkey by a close associate of Erdogan, with the goal of “helping the Islamic world achieve its proper place among the large global super powers.” One of the company’s men even helped Hamas officials gain entrance to a weapons exhibition in Turkey in 2015, where the officials expressed interest in the capabilities of UAVs and drones. In addition, Hamas operatives own a company in Turkey called IMES, which launders money for Hamas to the tune of millions of dollars. This money was transferred to the Gaza Strip and other countries while the authorities in Turkey turned a blind eye.

The continued activities of Hamas’ office in Istanbul is in clear violation of understandings between Israel and Turkey in the framework of the reconciliation agreement between the two states. Israel recognizes the importance of its diplomatic relations with Turkey, thus does not cut off relations with the country even though Hamas’ activities have the consent of President Erdoğan. However, Israel must operate more actively to thwart Turkish subversion attempts regarding the Temple Mount and Jerusalem in general. This can be accomplished by restraining the activities of Turkish agents.

Similarly, Israel needs to launch a broad public campaign to expose the Turkish government’s ties to terrorist elements. Jerusalem needs to publically state that continued Hamas activity in Turkey violates the reconciliation agreement and constitutes a legal cause for cancelling the agreement and halting the normalization process (which is stuck anyway).

Simultaneously, Israel should take covert action to thwart Hamas activity in Turkey. It should make it clear to the movement in Gaza that all anti-Israeli activities that are orchestrated by Turkey, will by viewed by Israel as equivalent to Hamas terror activities emerging from the Gaza Strip, thus will constitute a legitimate cause by Israel for economic and military reprisals.

JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

photo: By Free Gaza movement (originally posted to Flickr as OntheWay) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons