Israel is calling on Turkey to stop harboring Hamas, but it will take more intense pressure on Erdogan for that to happen.
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
News that Israel busted a Hamas terror cell operating in Judea and Samaria was cleared for publication on Monday. The cell was commanded from afar — by Saleh al-Arouri, who lives in Turkey.
The cell was in the advanced stages of plans for terror attacks. Israeli security personnel arrested 50 Palestinians and seized money, weapons and materials to produce four suicide bomb belts.
On Monday night, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to shut down Hamas offices operating on Turkish soil and stop harboring operatives planning terror attacks.
“Hamas’ offices in Istanbul will be shut down. We must prevent these heinous acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens everywhere and under any conditions,” said Lapid, who later added, “The countries of the world must act like Britain and outlaw Hamas.”
It’s not clear exactly when the arrests were made, but this much is: According to Hebrew media reports, the announcement was delayed several days because of the arrest of Mordi and Natali Oknin, two Israeli tourists detained for taking photographs of a presidential palace in Istanbul. Turkish prosecutors wanted to charge the two with espionage, and Jerusalem feared Erdogan might exploit them for his own political purposes.
It’s not difficult to imagine how. In October, Turkey announced that it arrested 15 people it said were working for the Mossad, though this development barely registered in Israel. The Oknins — both Egged bus drivers in Modi’in — would have been fresh meat for Turkish headlines and Islamist conspiracy theories.
If Israel was going to start pressing Erdogan on harboring Hamas, the Oknins would have to be brought home first.
Fortunately, the Turkish strongman only wanted a public expression of Israeli gratitude, which he got in phone calls from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog. The Oknins returned to Israel Wednesday.
Further questions about Hamas-Turkish ties were raised when Israel’s Kan News reported that Hamas terrorist Fadi Abu Shkhaydam recently made several visits to Turkey before killing Eli Kay and injuring four others in a Jerusalem terror attack on Sunday.
Erdogan’s Support for Hamas
Turkey’s backing of Hamas stems from its overall support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist ideology of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Hamas is the Palestinian affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
That explains why Erdogan:
• Allowed the Mavi Marmara flotilla to sail to Gaza from Turkey in 2010, knowing it would provoke a diplomatic crisis with Israel. Israel and Turkey cut ties for six years;
• Periodically hosts high-profile Hamas delegations;
• Staunchly supported former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi,, whose election in 2012 briefly brought Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood rule;
• Bitterly opposed Gen. Abdel Fatteh al-Sissi, who overthrew Morsi and outlawed the Brotherhood;
• Allowed an estimated 30,000 Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members to live in Turkey after the coup;
• Periodically makes antisemitic statements;
• Granted Turkish citizenship to dozens of Hamas members involved in organizing terror attacks and raising funds, according to Western media reports in 2020. Among the Hamas personnel named were Zacharia Najib, another Turkish-based Hamas personality associated with the busted terror cell; and
• Backs Brotherhood-affiliated groups currently vying for power in Libya.
Saleh al-Arouri ,in particular, is too high-profile for the Turks to ignore. He is Hamas’ overall “military commander” for Judea and Samaria and a member of the organization’s politburo. He masterminded the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in 2014, which escalated to a war with Gaza. The U.S. has offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest, yet Erdogan receives Hamas delegations that openly include Arouri.
The Shin Bet said that Arouri promised Hijazi Qawasmi, the terror cell’s local commander, $1 million if his men successfully kidnapped an Israeli that Hamas could use as a bargaining chip. Hamas currently holds Israeli civilian captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to be alive, as well as the bodies of IDF soldiers St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin.
Until the Syrian civil war, Hamas used Damascus as safe haven.
Israel and the U.S. have sought to use Turkey’s NATO membership as leverage to get Hamas kicked out. Most NATO members have designated Hamas a terror organization.
But given Erdogan’s ideology and the Turkish public widespread support for the Palestinians, it will take considerable more pressure to get Hamas closed down in Turkey.
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