Hamas SA, the financial muscle of the Palestinian Islamist militia | International

On Friday, just hours before U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Istanbul for tough talks with Turkish officials over the conflicting positions the two countries maintain in the Gaza war, his office announced a reward of up to up to 10 million dollars (nine million euros) for information on five members of the financial structure of the “terrorist” organization Hamas, three of whom – it seems – based in Turkey.

Israel’s leaders and their allies in Washington are convinced that to end the Palestinian Islamist militia, they must attack its funding sources and a structure that includes multimillion-dollar businesses and investments in various countries, including a once reliable ally. like Turkey, which over the past decade has welcomed the leaders of a group it considers a “liberation movement.”

A terrorist group or resistance movement, Hamas’s armed struggle costs money: buying weapons, maintaining military infrastructure (drone and rocket factories, tunnels, bunkers and barracks), paying the salaries of fighters and compensating families. of those who die. And Gaza, the group’s operational base, is not exactly an economic garden: the Israeli blockade has left half of Gazans unemployed and the population with a renew for the habitant of only 1,150 dollars, or around 1,000 euros. So where does the economic infrastructure come from to support Hamas?

“Until Hamas took control of the government in the Gaza Strip, it was funded primarily through Iran and charity abuses,” says Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s counterterrorism program and former staffer. of the US Treasury. to EL PAÍS and the FBI: “But over the last 10 or 15 years, their main source of income has been control of the territory of Gaza. » Hamas’ operational and military budget is estimated at around 550 million euros annually, or the level of the military spending of states with a population similar to that of Gaza such as Slovenia, Latvia or Armenia. Or what’s the same, a little more than 230 euros per inhabitant (military spending per inhabitant of Israel is 10 times higher).

The Hamas government imposes taxes on the importation of products through border crossings and, when these are not open, tunnels that supply the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Added to taxes on commercial activities, it represents a collection of around 450 million euros annually. At the same time, Gaza receives around $2 billion (1.85 billion euros) per year from the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank and international cooperation, including the UN, the European Union and the Qatar. The latter pays $360 million a year – until a few years ago in briefcases with cash – to pay civil servants’ salaries and help the neediest families, according to an agreement reached with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Experts like Levitt believe that not all of this money budgeted for Gaza goes to the population, but that some of it is mixed with Hamas’ operational expenses, for example paying fighters officially employed as civil servants: after the October 7 attack , Israeli authorities revealed the identities of some attackers who were supposed to work as police officers and civil servants in the administration of the Gaza Strip. This source of income ends with the practical destruction and new Israeli occupation of Gaza.

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Iran remains an obvious and visible contributor, particularly to Hamas’ armed wing, the Ezedin al-Qassam Brigades. The organization’s own political leader, Ismail Haniya, admitted in an interview with the Al Jazeera network in 2022 that Iran had contributed $70 million (63 million euros) to strengthen its defense. And expert estimates vary between this figure and 120 million per year. Additionally, the Palestinian group continues to receive donations from the Palestinian diaspora and individuals in various parts of the world as part of fundraising campaigns. crowdfunding which advertises via social networks. The funds are sent to Gaza by the method of hawala or through cryptocurrencies, although the latter have proven less secure because they can be tracked using technology blockchain. US and Israeli intelligence services have reported that major nodes for these transfers – currency and cryptocurrency exchange offices – used by Hamas are in Turkey.

Hamas Shopping Center

But to avoid this dependence on donors – for example, Tehran’s contributions were significantly reduced when Hamas aligned itself with the Syrian opposition against Iran’s allied regime early last decade – the Palestinian group established a Financial Committee, whose leaders have lived abroad for more than three decades (first in Jordan, then Saudi Arabia and later Turkey), and an investment office under the Council of the Hamas Shura. According to American intelligence, Zaher Jabarin has been head of Hamas Finance since 2017 and resides in Turkey; The Investment Office was headed by Ahmed Odeh, Usama Ali and Hisham Qafisheh, and all resided in or transited through Turkey. Qafisheh, who held management positions in several Hamas-run companies, obtained Turkish citizenship in 2021 and changed his name to Hasmet Aslan, according to commercial register data seen by EL PAÍS.

The US Treasury estimates that Hamas’s overseas assets total $500 million and include companies such as the Al Zawaya Group, which has subsidiaries in Cyprus, Turkey, Spain (a real estate company in Valencia ) and in Sudan, and which obtained lucrative contracts in the roads, mines and agricultural sector of this African country until the fall of Islamist dictator Omar al Bashir. In recent months, the United States has also sanctioned other construction and real estate development companies it considers part of the militia’s financial network, such as Algeria’s Sidar, Saudi Anda and Emirati Itqan Real. Estate JSC, which Hamas tried to sell in 2019 for $150 million.

“The United States has a long tradition of sanctioning innocent people without concrete evidence,” laments Ali Bakir, Turkey expert and professor at Qatar University, for whom these accusations are part of a campaign aimed at countering allegations of “genocide”. Israel: “Certain circles in Washington are trying to extort countries that defend the Palestinians, such as Turkey. »

The company that has raised the most dust after being singled out by Washington is the Turkish company Trend GYO, a publicly traded company that recently completed the construction of the new building of the Commercial University, an institution linked to the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. The Turkish company was founded in 2006 by Qafisheh and Saudi citizen Saleh Mangoush under the name Anda Gayrimenkul, which became Trend GYO in 2017. Already in May 2022, the US Treasury had included it on its sanctions list in identifying it as one of “the key elements of Hamas’ global asset pool” and several executives and shareholders have since been subjected to three other rounds of sanctions.

“It’s actually not difficult for Hamas to do these things,” Levitt explains: “All they need are people who don’t wear Hamas uniforms and are willing to run a business and, when it distributes dividends, to divert part of them. …some of them, if not all, to Hamas. On paper, everything works as it should; in fact, everything is subject to independent audits and scrutiny by the Turkish Securities Market Commission. So much so that, according to research by The New York Times, International clients purchased Trend GYO shares through U.S. and European banks, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ironies of global capitalism.

The Minister of Turkish Finance affirmed that it has reviewed Trend GYO’s cues and the people they related to it and concluded that “no abuse of the Turkish financial system” and that in any case it is related to the attacks on Israel in the past 7 October. In statements to EL PAÍS, a company source called the US Treasury’s allegations “lies”: “We have no idea why they are attacking us; maybe because our first investors were Palestinians, but they left it a long time ago and left Turkey. The current management doesn’t even know them personally.

Over the past three years, there has been a constant turnover of the board of directors and shareholders, with the majority of Arab investors leaving, according to the commercial register. Several officials linked to AKP, the party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took their place and, despite the sanctions, the construction company’s shares increased in value.

Amer Alshawa, one of the alleged Hamas financiers to whom the United States is offering a $10 million reward and who was arrested in 2015 in the United Arab Emirates on suspicion of helping the Palestinian organization , served as general manager of Trend GYO between 2007 and 2019. In an interview with The New York Times He denied having any connections with Hamas, but said he suspected council members of collaborating with the group: “I didn’t care, I was there to make money.”

The dividends that the international investment conglomerate brings to Hamas are estimated at between $10 million and $20 million per year. “These investments are not liquid. These are not species that you can access immediately,” Levitt points out. Its importance lies more in the fact that it is a fund that can be called upon in times of need. For example, accounting documents obtained through Israeli espionage established that after the 2014 war, Hamas sold assets worth $75 million to rebuild part of its infrastructure in Gaza.

Today, after the destruction of the Gaza Strip, the seeds of the reconstitution of the Islamist group could also begin there. “These investments generate ongoing revenue, and unless they are identified and frozen, they will continue to do so. But given the countries where they are located, it is unlikely that they will be frozen,” said Jessica Davis, financial intelligence expert and former employee of the Canadian secret service: “If the group loses control of Gaza, almost all of its assets They can be used for military or terrorist activities.

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