By Paul Alster, foxnews
Hamas, the terrorist group perpetually at odds with Israel, has found a willing patron in Turkey, say critics, who allege the NATO member has rolled out the red carpet for the Jewish state’s longtime nemesis, whose official headquarters are now in Istanbul.
Kicked out of Damascus in Syria amid deteriorating relations with the Assad regime, Hamas’ top leadership has established a new office in Istanbul called the ‘West Bank and Jerusalem Headquarters.” With the approval of the Turkish authorities, Salah Al-Arouri, one of the founders of the Al Qassam Brigade (Hamas’ military wing), and who served 15 years in jail in Israel for terrorist offenses, has been directing Hamas’ efforts in the West Bank to overthrow the Palestinian Authority and attack Israel at the same time.
“Turkey has become a Hamas hotbed, and members of the organization’s military wing are undergoing military training on Turkish soil, with the knowledge, support, and assistance of the local authorities,” leading Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported last week. “The U.S. administration has appealed in recent months to the Turkish government to prevent Hamas military activity in its territory, arguing that Turkey is a member of NATO and that Hamas is viewed by most NATO members as a terrorist organization. The appeals have gone unanswered.”
“We have expressed worry and displeasure at the fact that Turkey is hosting on its territory high level Hamas officials.”- Emmanuel Nachshon, Israeli Foreign Ministry
In recent years, Turkey was seen as a key player in bridging relations between the West and the Arab world. In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, announced the launch of a new global counterterrorism forum.
“We’re bringing together traditional allies, emerging powers, and Muslim-majority countries,” Clinton declared, “around a shared counterterrorism mission in a way that’s never been done before. Turkey and the United States will serve as founding co-chairs and we will be joined by nearly 30 other nations.”
The choice of Turkey as co-chair raised concerns at the time, fears that have been stoked in the three-and-a-half years since. Turkey has been accused of a blind-eye policy regarding Western jihadists moving across its border with Syria, while being increasingly critical of Israel and enthusiastically backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s courtship of Hamas, which also enjoys support from Qatar and Iran, came before and during the terrorist group’s 50-day war with Israel last summer. Israel has expressed to allies its concern about Turkey’s role, but Turkish support of Hamas has only become more blatant.
“This is not a new phenomenon,” Emmanuel Nachshon, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told FoxNews.com. “We have expressed worry and displeasure at the fact that Turkey is hosting on its territory high-level Hamas officials. We also are extremely worried that this would serve as the basis for the preparation of terrorist acts. These are messages that we have conveyed to Turkey, either directly or through third parties. If you recall, a few months ago the Hamas plot to take over the West Bank was orchestrated, most probably, by Hamas in Turkey.”
Speaking from Turkey last August, Al-Arouri appeared to admit that it was on his instructions that the three Israeli teenagers, whose kidnapping and murder ignited the summer war between Hamas and Israel, were snatched and murdered.
Reports suggest that no less than 20 of the key Hamas terrorists released in return for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in October 2011 are now working alongside Al-Arouri in Istanbul and are active in recruiting and training West Bank residents to return to commit terrorist acts. However, not only is Turkey providing safe haven and material support to Hamas, but the Turks are allegedly also actively involved in the terror training.
“According to Israeli security sources, Turkish intelligence is helping the military wing of Hamas in Turkey,” Yoni Ben Menachem, senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, told FoxNews.com.
As for media speculation that Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal had also moved to Turkey, Ben Menachem says this is most definitely not the case.
“Meshaal has not left Qatar,” he said. “The reports were untrue; this was just spin. He remains in Doha. After King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s recent death, the new King Salman is more supportive of Hamas and of Qatar, so Meshaal is staying in Qatar. Hamas is just using the Turkish co-operation.”
While Turkey embraces Hamas, the nation may not even be Hamas’ military leadership’s first choice for a location of exile.
“Even Hamas, which the [Erdogan’s] AK Parti government quite values, is reluctant to carry its leadership to Turkey, firstly because it would rather choose an Arab country and [is] not keen on the idea of Turks leading Arabs, and secondly because it would like to be in an environment that has links with the West and Israel,” Murat Yetkin wrote last week in Hurriyet, Turkey’s leading daily newspaper.
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: www.paulalster.com