Jerusalem Post, 11/12
At a conference in Istanbul last week, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh expressed his gratitude for the role that Turkey is playing in the advancement of the Palestinian cause. “From the land of the beloved Turkey, which is always etched in the conscience of our [Muslim] ummah (nation),” Haniyeh told conference participants, according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu. “We feel proud to participate in this conference.”
The conference, which took place under the title “The Vanguards of Jerusalem hold its Sword,” brought together 400 officials, lawmakers and activists, hailing from 40 countries, according to Anadolu.
The Hamas leader went on to outline and analyze what he described as “three important changes that surround us at the level of the [Palestinian] cause, the region and the ummah.”
The three changes listed by the Hamas leader are of interest because they reflect the current view of the region held by the regional alliance, of which Hamas is a part, both in terms of its aspirations and in terms of its concerns. This is the alliance of states and movements adhering broadly to the conservative Sunni political Islamist outlook of the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to Haniyeh, the three significant changes that have taken place are: firstly, the outcome of the May clashes with Israel, which the movement depicts as a success for itself in that it returned the issue of Jerusalem to regional focus. Secondly, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Haniyeh described as weakening the US and its allies in the region, and thirdly, the Istanbul conference itself, which he depicted as representing part of a reaction to the process of normalization with Israel being pursued by some Arab countries.
Haniyeh called for “setting a complete plan to topple the normalization which took the shape of military and security alliance with some Arab countries.” He concluded that, “We must not allow normalization to spread in the body of our ummah.”
The location where the Hamas leader gave his speech is as significant as its content. Increasing evidence is emerging that Hamas is seeking to foment a new confrontation with Israel. The focus of this effort is the West Bank, not the movement’s de facto sovereign fiefdom in the Gaza Strip.
This effort, it appears, is being directed from Turkey. The Istanbul conference last week was the visible and declarative element of a broader reality in which Ankara is actively promoting the political efforts of Hamas, as the movement seeks to emerge as the leading force among the Palestinians. Alongside this overt promotion, Turkey appears to be tacitly permitting Hamas to direct its campaign of violence in the West Bank, from Turkish soil.
Israeli media reported after the murder of Eliyahu Kay in Jerusalem last month that the killer, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, had travelled to Turkey on a number of occasions in the months preceding the attack. Security officials quoted in Israeli media said Abu Shkhaydam met with senior Hamas operatives in Turkey in the course of these visits. A report on KAN quoted Israeli security officials as contending that Abu Shkhaydam received his instructions for his attack from these Hamas figures in Turkey.
Similarly, the 50-man Hamas network in the West Bank, which was exposed and neutralized by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in late November was, again according to security officials quoted in Israeli media, managed by senior Hamas operatives Saleh al-Arouri and Zakaria Najib. Both men are residents of Turkey, where Hamas continues to maintain an overt presence.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid repeated calls after the revealing of the Hamas network for the closure of the movement’s offices in Istanbul. The high-profile conference held last week in Istanbul, which included the participation of senior Turkish officials, was presumably Ankara’s response to this request.
Available evidence suggests that Turkish involvement with Hamas does not consist only of allowing the movement to domicile itself and plan actions from Turkish soil. Rather, on a number of occasions in recent years, indications of Turkish state and quasi-state agencies offering direct assistance to the movement have emerged.
The state-run Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), which maintains offices in Jerusalem and Gaza, is one organization whose officials have been found to have close links to Hamas. In 2017, Muhammad Murtaja, who headed TIKA’s Gaza office, was arrested by the Israeli authorities and accused of diverting aid money to Hamas’s “military wing.” He was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2018.
In Gaza, TIKA overtly carries out numerous joint activities with the Hamas authorities. The organization is also active in propagation of Muslim Brotherhood ideology, and in charity work in Jerusalem.
The footprints of the SADAT International Defense Consultancy company have also been detected in the West Bank in recent years. SADAT, the only private military company permitted to organize in Turkey, was founded by Brig.-Gen. Adnan Tanriverdi, in 2012. Tanriverdi, who had been removed from the army because of his Islamist beliefs, served as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s military adviser from 2016-2019. Tanriverdi presided over the purge of Kemalist offices from the Turkish military after the “coup” attempt in 2016. SADAT was the agency that recruited, trained and financed Syrian Sunni Arab rebels into Turkish-supported formations from 2012.
While organizationally very different, SADAT plays an analogous role to that performed by the IRGC’s Quds Force in the Iranian context.
Tanriverdi left his official position in 2019, but remains close to Erdogan and his administration.
In January 2018, the Israeli authorities arrested a Turkish citizen, law lecturer Cemil Tekeli, on suspicion of assisting in the transfer of money and materiel to Hamas. It became clear in his interrogation that Tekeli was linked to SADAT and was an associate of Tanriverdi. The Shin Bet investigation found that Tekeli and his associate, an Israeli-Arab, had been recruited by one Zaher Jabarin, a Hamas member resident in Turkey who reports directly to Saleh al-Arouri.
These glimpses, along with the more visible activities noted above, point to a deep and systematic project of support for Hamas by Turkey. The connection is a natural one.
Hamas is dependent on Iranian support for the maintenance of its Gaza fiefdom. The domestic rocket and missile-making knowhow that the movement utilizes in its periodic clashes with Israel is the product of the Iranian link. But this alliance is not entirely comfortable for Hamas. It is notable that when for a moment the Arab Spring appeared to be heralding the establishment of Sunni Islamist regimes in a number of Arab countries, Hamas rapidly quit its domicile in Damascus and sought to ally with this emergent trend. This turned out to be a mirage, and Hamas was forced to return to its former Iranian allies as a supplicant.
But meanwhile, alongside this problematic partnership, Hamas appears to have built a far more comfortable and apparently no less extensive connection to its fellow Sunni Islamists in Ankara. As a result, Turkey is now the preferred location for Hamas’s propaganda gatherings. It is also, according to the available evidence, the site for the planning of the terror campaign in the West Bank, which the movement is currently energetically seeking to activate.