Turkey’s ties to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas are once again in the spotlight. Israeli authorities claimed this week that two charities with close ties to the ruling elite in Ankara were providing financial and military support to the Gaza-based Islamist faction.
Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, announced earlier this week that Muhammad Murtaja, the Gaza coordinator of the state-funded Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), was arrested last month as he attempted to travel from Gaza to Turkey. Murtaja stands accused of diverting funds to Hamas that were earmarked for charity. He is also believed to have provided sensitive intelligence to the terrorist group, including information about military sites inside Israel. Murtaja is believed to be a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
On the heels of the Murtaja announcement, the Shin Bet also announced that Hamas was also working with another charity with close ties to the ruling elite in Ankara, the IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), to gain access to advanced satellite mapping programs to improve the accuracy of its rockets. The IHH published a statement claiming that Israel is leveling accusations at humanitarian organizations as a justification to cut aid to Gazans in need.
The IHH was the coordinator of the 2010 flotilla to Gaza that led to a clash between activists and Israeli naval commandos on the Mediterranean Sea. The group has also been accused in recent years of supporting extremist Islamist causes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Syria.
Turkey’s ties to Hamas are now well known. Despite its status as a NATO ally, Ankara has provided financial support to the terror group for at least a half a decade. It has also allowed for senior Hamas figures to operate inside its borders. Notably, the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in 2014 was planned and financed by senior Hamas military figure Saleh Arouri, who was operating on Turkish soil before he was designated as a terrorist by the United States Treasury in 2015.
The aforementioned flotilla of 2010 set Israel and Turkey on a collision course. The Turkish support for Hamas only heightened those tensions. Ties remained strained through July of last year, when the two countries agreed to reconcile. With regional instability at an all-time high, neither country saw the strategic value in continuing the spat.
Speaking in Washington, DC yesterday, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu noted that Turkey-Israel relations have remained positive. But as the recent Shin Bet announcements reveal, the rapprochement agreement of 2016 has failed to address the core problem. Turkey’s support for Hamas political and military activities – through NGOs or other means – appears to be continuing unabated.
Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer