Congress Told Two US Allies May Have Bankrolled 70% of Hamas’ Budget

Zoey DiMauro | September 19, 2014 | 1:15pm EDT
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An Israeli army officer gives journalists a tour of a tunnel allegedly used by Palestinian militants in Gaza for cross-border attacks. (AP)

( Qatar and Turkey, both allies of the United States, may have financed up to 70 percent of the terrorist group Hamas’ budget, according to a panel of experts who testified at a Congressional hearing earlier this month.

The panelists all agreed that the U.S. should not proceed with a proposed $11 billion arms deal with Qatar.

“Qatar is currently Hamas’ ATM,” Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Joint Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs Sept. 9th.

“If you add up the annual $400 million that we believe has been pledged by the Qataris and perhaps the rumored $300 million provided by the Turks, then you’re looking at $700 million out of a roughly $1 billion budget,” Schanzer told members of Congress. “I’m no math major, but that would be 70 percent.”

The Qataris pledged the $400 million in 2012 and gave the Palestinian Authority many more millions in 2006 and 2008, Schanzer reported. He added that as recently as May, Qatar promised $60 million to help Hamas pay the salaries of its Gaza employees, but the Arab Bank in Jordan declined to process the payment, he added.

Turkey reportedly pledged another $300 million to Hamas in 2011, though the country has since denied it, said Schanzer. However, Turkey openly provided Hamas with money for several infrastructure projects after its war with Israel in 2012.

Yet despite their known political and monetary support of Hamas,”we have not even begun to call them out,” Schanzer told the subcommittee. “I cannot stress that enough.”

“Both Turkey and Qatar serve as U.S. allies while simultaneously qualifying as state sponsors of terrorism, to the letter of U.S. law,” he pointed out. “The goal is to change the behavior of both countries and to preserve these alliances, if at all possible.”

Schanzer acknowledged that verifying the two countries’ exact contributions to Hamas is difficult. “It’s not like Hamas is settling up at the end of the year with Ernst & Young and declaring how they move their money,” Schanzer quipped. “Obviously this is a clandestine terrorist organization.”

Cash from foreign countries like Qatar, Turkey and Iran are smuggled to Hamas via a large system of underground tunnels in Gaza, he testified. However, since Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in 2013,  around 1,700 of these tunnels have been closed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, dramatically reducing Hamas’ $1 billion budget to about $35 million, Schanzer noted.

“In many ways that could’ve been the reason they launched this war, to basically fight for the ability to have this tunnel reopened or to have the borders opened," he said.

If so, the tactic succeeded when the August ceasefire included economic concessions such as “lifting the Israeli blockade, opening border crossings to Egypt and Israel, and building an airport and seaport,” said Avi Jorisch of the American Foreign Policy Council.

In addition to providing financial support, Qatar has been “politically indispensable” to Hamas, serving as a mediator in its meetings with various Middle Eastern and European countries, Jorisch noted, adding that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also been extremely supportive of Hamas on the international stage.

“Ideologically speaking, Turkey, above and beyond Hamas’ other donors, has supported the Hamas worldview and their barbaric agenda,” Jorisch said, pointing out that Saleh al-Arouri, a founder of the Hamas military wing, lives openly in Turkey.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal currently lives in Qatar, although he has reportedly been asked to leave the country.

Jorisch believes the U.S. should stop sending aid to the Palestinian Authority, criticizing a decision made by Secretary of State John Kerry that reversed “years of U.S. foreign policy of not engaging in any way with a designated terrorist entity.”

Steven Cook, a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relationssaid that Kerry and President Obama must condemn their allies' support of a group that is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) spoke out against the Palestinians' practice of paying the families of Hamas terrorists when they are jailed in Israel.

“When they commit terrorist acts, yes, their families are paid a significant sum of money on a monthly basis,” agreed Jorisch. “I find it disturbing and reprehensible.”

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.) asked the panel what Congress should do about the connection between Hamas and the United Nations' Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. As much as $300 million of U.S. taxpayer money annually goes towards what Cook called a “deeply compromised organization.”

“It’s aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. It’s essentially allowing Hamas to store its rockets, and ultimately it’s hurting civilians on the other side,” Jorisch said of UNRWA. “Simply put, defund it.”

He also testified on the importance of combating radical Islam in all of its manifestations. “Hamas’ strategy and ideology are almost identical to those of Sunni ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and al-Queda,” said Jorish. “I don’t understand how we can be so silent.”

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