Beheld from one of Istanbul’s most radiant restaurants, the Bosphorus appears breathtaking. This setting is a favored haunt of dignitaries, entrepreneurs, minor luminaries, and Hamas backers. An individual sanctioned by the US for financing an Islamic organization details his diverse board roles. “The accusation from America is absurd,” he remarks, but eventually concedes, “Now, if inquiring about the utilization of their funds by our staff, why would I possess such knowledge?”Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Hamas embodies three sources of authority: its tangible dominance within Gaza, the diffusion of its ideologies, and its income. Since the assaults by Hamas on October 7, Israel has eliminated over 12,000 Palestinians in Gaza during the initial attempted strike. However, Israel’s declared objective of eradicating Hamas permanently also necessitates dismantling its economic foundation. Scant resources are present in Gaza; instead, they are situated in sympathetic foreign nations. Equipped with money-launderers, mining enterprises, and more, it is estimated that Hamas’s extensive financial realm generates in excess of $1 billion annually. Painstakingly structured to evade Western sanctions, it may be beyond the influence of Israel and its allies.
Hamas’s revenue finances a spectrum ranging from educators’ remuneration to projectiles. Import duties on commodities entering Gaza from the West Bank or Egypt contribute approximately $360 million annually. This stands as the most accessible cash source for Israel. Following its withdrawal from the area in 2005, Israel severely curtailed the movement of goods and people across the border. Consequently, this impedes the arrival of even fundamental necessities.
Nevertheless, a significant revenue source originates from abroad. Israeli officials estimate this figure to hover around $750 million annually, constituting the primary source of funding for Hamas’s existing armament and fuel stockpile. Some emanates from sympathetic governments, with the largest contributor being Iran. The US is of the opinion that the Ayatollahs supply approximately $100 million, predominantly in military support, to Palestinian Islamic groups. The task of Hamas financiers is to transfer these funds without falling prey to US sanctions. Merely last month, US officials imposed three rounds of sanctions on individuals and entities funding Hamas.
Navigating around US sanctions necessitates ingenuity. Millions of dollars flow into Hamas via crypto markets. “The level of market activity that trickles back might surprise you,” asserts Firoz Cegzin, an economist at Bilkent University. The US Treasury Department alleges that Hamas has illicitly transferred over $20 million through Radin, a currency exchange nestled amidst tourist establishments in Istanbul’s congested Fatih neighborhood.
However, Israeli officials assert that the majority of Hamas’s financial influx – at least $500 million per year – stems from its investment ventures, some of which are registered companies in Middle Eastern nations. These enterprises are managed by professionals from Hamas’s investment bureau and engage its members. According to US officials, these corporations contribute to charitable organizations which, in turn, provide financial backing to Hamas; Turkish authorities claim that the gains are occasionally appropriated directly. These revenue streams pose a challenge for Western regulators to reconcile. One such company erected Afra Mall, Sudan’s maiden shopping complex, while another enterprise constructed quarries in the vicinity of its capital, Khartoum. A third firm constructed skyscrapers in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many of these firms boast about their commercial dealings but disavow any association with Hamas.
Could any residual revenue streams for Hamas be severed? This is contingent on the nations through which they are channeled. Since 1989, when Israel detained several high-ranking Hamas officials in Gaza and the West Bank, their financiers have resided abroad. Nonetheless, geopolitical shifts have necessitated their relocation over time. Hamas relinquished its initial financial hub, Amman, subsequent to the consolidation of Jordan’s ties with the United States.
At present, while Hamas politicians harbor support in Qatar’s capital, Doha, and its enterprises span from Algeria and Sudan to the United Arab Emirates, its financiers are situated in Istanbul. Zaheer Jabrin, whom Israel accuses of managing Hamas’s finances (a claim he rebuffs), is established there, along with several other individuals under US sanctions for funding the organization. Eager to amplify their regional influence through advocating the Palestinian cause, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended asylum. Israel contends that the Turkish government endorses passports (a claim it refutes) and permits Hamas to maintain an office within the country.
Conversely, Turkey’s banking system facilitates Hamas in circumventing US sanctions by executing intricate transactions across the globe. An expanding, minimally regulated crypto market contributes to this. Allegations have been leveled against several prominent Turkish banks, including Kuwait Turk, by Israel and the US for knowingly hoarding Hamas funds. There are murmurs insinuating that Mr. Erdogan is passively complicit in this. In 2021, the G7 watchdog Financial Action Task Force included Turkey on its “grey list” of countries displaying inadequate efforts to freeze the assets of terrorists.
No one benefits more than Hamas entrepreneurs. The implicit consent of the Turkish government “opens doors in business and streamlines operations,” conveys a member of the group’s financial team. Trend GYO, a firm listed in Istanbul that has been sanctioned by the US for funding Hamas, secured an official contract to construct Istanbul Commerce University. Construction firms, which prominently feature within Hamas’s portfolio, adeptly absorb substantial sums of cash and regularly secure substantial loans. This enables Turkish authorities to disassociate themselves from directly enriching Hamas.
Hitherto, Hamas appears impervious to financial encumbrances. Israel has encountered minimal success in curtailing its revenue or reserves, while Turkish banks have proven uncooperative. Numerous US sanctions falter if their specified targets can maintain funds beyond its banking system. Furthermore, Hamas adeptly obfuscates its corporate identities. “Every time you believe you have a significant figure, it alters its identity,” laments a former Treasury official.
In actuality, the peril lies in the potential enhancement of Hamas’s financial standing. As Israel intensifies its offensives in Gaza, Western governments may experience heightened anxiety over humanitarian considerations. Nations with pro-Palestinian demographics may facilitate the acquisition of funds for Hamas. Speculations have circulated for months alleging coordination between some civil servants in Mr. Erdogan’s economic ministry and Hamas’s finance bureau.
For Israel, the enrichment of Hamas amidst the conflict would be catastrophic. With its assets and financial roots intact, it – or an analogous entity – can thrive even in the aftermath of devastation. Meanwhile, the citizens of Gaza endure tragedy as Israel endeavors to dismantle a faction whose wealth and authority are securely ensconced elsewhere. Contrast their plight with this scene from Istanbul: savoring lobster while gazing at the Bosphorus.
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