Observed from one of the most vibrant eateries in Istanbul, the Bosphorus presents a breathtaking sight. This location is a favored gathering spot for top officials, entrepreneurs, minor public figures, and financial backers of Hamas. A man blacklisted by the US for supporting an Islamic group details his numerous positions on corporate boards. “It’s absurd,” he dismisses America’s accusation, but eventually admits, “Now, if you’re inquiring about how our employees utilize their funds, why would I be informed?”Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Hamas possesses three sources of influence: its tangible authority within Gaza, the dissemination of its ideologies, and its revenue. Since the incursions by Hamas on October 7, Israel has terminated over 12,000 lives in Gaza during the initial assault. However, Israel’s declared objective of eradicating Hamas permanently also hinges on dismantling its financial infrastructure. Very little of this infrastructure exists within Gaza; instead, it is located in supportive foreign nations. Equipped with money launderers, mining enterprises, and more, Hamas’s extensive financial realm is estimated to yield over $1 billion annually. Meticulously structured to circumvent Western sanctions, it may be beyond the grasp of Israel and its allies.
The revenue flowing into Hamas contributes to everything from the remuneration of educators to the procurement of missiles. Import duties on goods transported into Gaza from the West Bank or Egypt generate approximately $360 million each year. This is the most easily accessible cash source for Israel. After withdrawing from the region in 2005, it significantly restricted the movement of goods and individuals across the border, permitting only a fraction of essential supplies to enter.
Nevertheless, a substantial portion of the income comes from abroad. Israeli authorities estimate this sum to be in the vicinity of $750 million annually, constituting the chief source of financing for Hamas’s current arsenal of weaponry and resources. Some of the support comes from sympathetic governments, with Iran being the most significant donor. The US asserts that the Ayatollahs allocate $100 million, primarily in military assistance, to Palestinian Islamic groups. The responsibility of Hamas financiers is to maneuver these funds without falling prey to US sanctions. Merely last month, US officials imposed three sets of sanctions on individuals and companies funding Hamas.
Avoiding US sanctions necessitates resourcefulness. Millions of dollars stream into Hamas through cryptocurrency markets. “You’d be amazed by the degree of market activities circling back to [Hamas],” remarks Firoz Cegzin, an economist at Bilkent University. The US Treasury Department alleges that Hamas has infiltrated over $20 million through Radin, a currency exchange situated amid tourist outlets in Istanbul’s congested Fatih district.
Israeli officials, however, assert that the bulk of Hamas’s funding—no less than $500 million annually—emanates from its investments, some of which are affiliated with establishments registered in Middle Eastern countries. These are managed by professionals from Hamas’s investment bureau and employ its affiliates. US officials maintain that these entities donate to charitable organizations, which in turn provide financial support to Hamas, while Turkish officials contend that the profits are sometimes directly obtained. These fiscal streams present a challenge for Western oversight bodies. One such company erected Afra Mall, Sudan’s inaugural shopping complex, while another established quarries near the capital, Khartoum. A third entity constructed skyscrapers in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many of these corporations boast of their business transactions but disavow any ties to Hamas.
Can any remaining revenue channels for Hamas be severed? It hinges upon the countries through which they traverse. Since 1989, when Israel apprehended a handful of senior Hamas officials in Gaza and the West Bank, its financiers have been residing overseas. Nevertheless, geopolitical shifts have compelled them to relocate. Hamas relinquished its initial financial hub, Amman, after Jordan’s rapport with the United States grew too close.
Today, while Hamas politicians lend support to Doha, the capital of Qatar, and its business activities span across Algeria and Sudan to the United Arab Emirates, its financiers are situated in Istanbul. Zaheer Jabrin, whom Israel accuses of overseeing Hamas’s finances (which he denies), is based there, alongside several other individuals sanctioned by the US for funding the organization. Eager to bolster regional influence by championing the Palestinian cause, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended refuge. Israel alleges that the Turkish government issues passports (which it refutes) and permits Hamas to maintain an office within the country.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s banking system aids Hamas in eluding US sanctions by executing intricate transactions globally. A burgeoning, minimally regulated cryptocurrency market is also contributing. Several major Turkish banks, including Kuwait Turk, have been accused by Israel and the US of knowingly stockpiling Hamas funds. There are murmurs suggesting that Mr. Erdogan tacitly endorses this conduct. In 2021, the G7 watchdog, Financial Action Task Force, included Turkey in its “grey list” of countries that inadequately freeze terrorists’ assets.
Hamas businessmen enjoy unmatched benefits. The implicit approval of the Turkish government “facilitates business opportunities and streamlines operations,” remarks a member of the group’s financial team. Trend GYO, a firm listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange, has faced sanctions from the US for supporting Hamas and secured an official contract to construct Istanbul Commerce University. Construction enterprises, which are heavily featured in Hamas’s portfolio, can discretely absorb substantial amounts of funds and routinely secure sizable loans. All of this allows Turkish officials to assert that they are not directly enriching Hamas.
Up to this point, Hamas seems impervious to financial repercussions. Israel has inflicted minimal damage on its revenue or assets, and Turkish banks have not cooperated. Numerous US sanctions are less effective if their targets can maintain their funds outside the country’s banking system. Furthermore, Hamas veils its corporations adeptly. “Every time you think you’ve seized a major player, it rebrands itself,” laments a former Treasury official in frustration.
In fact, there is a risk that Hamas’s financial standing will experience an upturn. As Israel intensifies its assaults on Gaza, Western governments might succumb to humanitarian concerns. Nations with pro-Palestinian constituencies can facilitate the acquisition of funds for Hamas. Rumors have been circulating for months that certain civil servants in Mr. Erdogan’s ministry of economy have been collaborating with Hamas’s financial bureau.
For Israel, the prospect of Hamas amassing wealth despite the conflict would be a catastrophe. With its assets and fiscal roots intact, it—or a similar entity—can thrive even after suffering destruction. Meanwhile, the residents of Gaza endure tragedy as Israel endeavors to vanquish a group whose wealth and influence are secure elsewhere. Contrast their predicament with the scene in Istanbul: savoring lobster and gazing at the Bosphorus.