August 26, 2020 | Policy Brief

State Department Calls Out Erdogan’s Hosting of Hamas Terrorists

August 26, 2020 | Policy Brief

State Department Calls Out Erdogan’s Hosting of Hamas Terrorists

The State Department registered its strong objection yesterday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hosting of two Hamas leaders in Istanbul on August 22. This is the first time the State Department has called out Turkey’s close relations with and ongoing support for Hamas, a sign the U.S. government’s patience is wearing thin with Erdogan’s harboring of radical Islamists.

Although Erdogan is the leader of a NATO member state, both his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Hamas have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and share a similar ideology built on an anti-Western and anti-Semitic worldview. During his nearly 18 years as Turkey’s leader, Erdogan has not felt the need to hide his close association with Hamas. In 2018, Erdogan tweeted to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “Hamas is not a terrorist organization” but “a resistance movement,” views later echoed by the Turkish Foreign Ministry in 2019. Last Saturday, Erdogan publicized his hosting of a senior Hamas delegation through the Turkish Presidency’s official Twitter account.

As the State Department reminded Erdogan yesterday, two of the individuals in the most recent Hamas delegation – senior military leader Saleh al-Arouri and senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh – are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The United States has also issued a “Rewards for Justice” bounty for information leading to the arrest or capture of Arouri, who was responsible for the June 2014 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, sparking a war between Israel and Hamas. Less than two months later, Arouri claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack at a public event in Istanbul that senior Turkish officials attended.

But Arouri is just one of many Hamas operatives who have operated in Turkey. In 2011, 10 Hamas operatives Israel released as part of a prisoner exchange arrived in Turkey, and many remain active there. Imad al-Alami, Hamas’ long-serving envoy to Iran and a U.S.-designated terrorist since 2003, received medical treatment in Turkey in 2014 and continued his work there while he recuperated. In 2016, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused Turkey of “hosting in Istanbul the terror command post of Hamas abroad.”

Erdogan’s advocacy for Hamas went as far as asking President Donald Trump in 2018 to pressure Netanyahu “to release a Turkish citizen held in Israel” charged with “smuggling money and a cellphone to Hamas operatives.” In return, Erdogan promised “he would release Andrew Brunson,” a North Carolinian pastor Turkey held hostage for two years on trumped-up charges of terrorism, espionage, and coup plotting.

Earlier this month, the British daily The Telegraph revealed that Ankara granted citizenship and passports to “senior operatives of a Hamas terrorist cell,” including Zacharia Najib, “the senior Hamas operative who oversaw a plot to assassinate the [then] mayor of Jerusalem, as well as other Israeli public figures.” In December 2019, the assassination plot prompted that former mayor, Nir Barkat, now a member of Israel’s parliament, to ask the United States to “lead a process of severe international sanctions on Turkey which is a terror-supporting regime just like Iran.”

Until now, the U.S. government had remained publicly silent on the Erdogan government’s support for Hamas terrorists. Besides the U.S. Treasury Department’s September 2019 designation of Zaher Jabarin, the Turkey-based head of Hamas’ Finance Office, Washington has chosen to look the other way. Although the State Department’s condemnation is an important step, it fell on deaf ears, as Ankara demonstrated by insisting it “fully rejects” the U.S. position. Unless Washington takes more concrete steps, including sanctions on Turkish financiers and enablers of Hamas terrorists, Erdogan’s support is likely to become more brazen.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Aykan, the Turkey Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Aykan on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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