- On March 9, 2022, as part of the thawing of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel, Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a state visit to Turkey, the first such visit in 14 years. A formal reception was held for him in the presidential palace in Ankara and he met with President Erdogan.
- The visit and reception were widely covered by the Palestinian media. In the Palestinian Authority (PA) it was thought that a rapprochement between the two countries could help the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
- However, both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) criticized the visit and reception. Hamas was relatively cautious and said in an announcement that it was “following with concern” the visits of Israeli leaders to Arab and Muslim countries, which were the Palestinian people’s “strategic depth.” Hamas did not use the word “condemn” in its announcement or mention Turkey by name. PIJ spokesmen harshly condemned the visit and called Turkey’s attempt to rebuild relations with Israel “a betrayal of the Palestinians.”
- Hamas’ response was motivated principally by its many interests in Turkey and the fear, which was not publicly stated, that through ties between Israel and Turkey Hamas could lose its assets. It could also lose the freedom of action its operatives have enjoyed for the past decade, especially since they were exiled to Turkey after the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, turning it into one of Hamas’ main overseas bases for operations. In recent years Hamas terrorist operatives have lived in Turkey from which they direct terrorist activities in Judea and Samaria. The country also serves as a base for transferring funds to terrorist operatives in Judea and Samaria and to Hamas headquarters in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Authority (PA)
- The PA did not particularly relate to the visit. Senior PA figures, and Wafa, its official news agency, did not relate to it at all. The Facebook page of its official newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, posted mainly protest demonstrations held in Istanbul during the visit (al-Hayat al-Jadeeda Facebook page, March 9, 2022). The Facebook page of Wafa, which is directly subordinate to Mahmoud Abbas’ office, did not relate to the visit at all.
From al-Hayat al-Jadeeda‘s Facebook page, March 9, 2022 pictures from President Herzog’s visit to Turkey with an emphasis on the mass protest in the center of Istanbul.
- The only senior PA figure who did relate was Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki. Interviewed by CNN Turk on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, he said the Palestinians were not worried by a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey. Such an event would serve the interests of the Palestinian cause because it would give Turkey power which at some time in the future could be used at a Palestinian-Israeli negotiating table. He also said that if Turkey offered to mediate between the sides, the Palestinians would accept the offer. He claimed the Turkish foreign minister told him that a development in Israeli-Turkish relations would not come at the expense of the Palestinians (CNN, March 12, 2022).
alestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki interviewed by CNN Turkey (CNN Turkey website, March 10, 2022).
- Hamas published a statement of concern and sorrow at visits by senior Israeli officials to Arab and Muslim countries (Herzog’s visit to Turkey overlapped that of Chief of Staff General Aviv Kochavi’s to Bahrain and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s to Jordan), and expressed objection to the visits. Hamas was careful not to use terms like “condemnation” and did not mention Turkey by name. “Sources” in Hamas’ political bureau were quick to declare that the movement’s relations with Turkey were excellent, as usual. The sources also claimed there were no Hamas “military” operatives in Turkey and that any report to the contrary was a “fabrication.” According to Hamas, only a political legation represented the movement in Turkey (al-Ra’i al-Yawm, March 12, 2022).
- The Hamas-affiliated al-Risalah and Shehab Twitter accounts gave extensive coverage to the visit and the reception held for President Herzog. They stressed the seriousness of the matter, calling normalization of relations with Israel “treason.” They also gave extensive coverage to the demonstrations held protesting the visit, with pictures of demonstrators holding signs depicting swastikas inside Stars of David, and signs reading “Herzog is a terrorist,” and “Zionist murderer” (al-Risalah Twitter account, March 9, 2022). Pictures were also published of the presidents’ wives at the opening of an exhibition in Ankara (Shehab Twitter account, March 10, 2022).
- Hamas’ al-Risalah website also published op-ed pieces by Palestinian political commentators who expressed concern over an Israeli-Turkish rapprochement:
- Salim al-Sharfa condemned President Herzog’s visit to Turkey and the reception held for him. According to al-Sharfa, the visit was a stab in the back of the Palestinians and a continuation of the wave of normalization in relationships between Israel and Arab states. He also accused the PA leadership of its ongoing security coordination with Israel and meetings with senior Israeli officials (alresala.net, March 11, 2022).
- Amin Barakeh also condemned the visit on the grounds that it was intended to serve the interests of Israel, which wanted to destroy Arab-Muslim states and their culture, and sow seeds of dissension between them [sic]. He claimed that if Turkey thought Israeli investors would pour money into the country, it was living in a world of fantasy (alresala.net, March 12, 2022).
- Isma’il al-Thawabata, director of the Hamas-affiliated al-Ra’i media network, said a reception held by the president of Turkey for the president of the “Zionist entity” was strange, offensive and incomprehensible, it marked the beginning of the normalization of relations [between the two states], which was treason. He claimed he was certain that millions of Turks objected to the reception. He also quoted a question asked years ago of Ahmed Yassin, Hamas founder and leader in the Gaza Strip: could the Palestinians normalize relations with the enemy in a situation where it would be impossible to “resist” and “struggle” against it. And Yassin said, “No. You can’t marry whore” (Isma’il al-Thawabata’s Twitter account, March 9, 2022).
Right: Formal reception in Ankara held for President Herzog by President Erdogan (Shehab Twitter account, March 9, 2022). Left: Herzog meets with Erdogan, and a quote from the Turkish president which reads, “An improvement in Turkish-Israeli relations is very important for regional stability and peace” (al-Risalah Twitter account, March 9, 2022).
Criticism of President Herzog’s visit to Turkey (Shehab Twitter account, March 9, 2022).
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
- The PIJ strongly condemned the visit, claiming that the aspiration to repair relations with Israel under the pretext of promoting the interests of any country was a betrayal of Jerusalem and “Palestine.” The organization greatly appreciated the position of the people of Turkey, who rejected the visit and supported the right of the Palestinian people (PIJ Telegram channel, March 9, 2022).
The Hamas presence in Turkey
- Hamas’ need to operate in Turkey to direct terrorist networks and transfer funds arose after the movement’s headquarters left Damascus in the wake of the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011. Turkey’s fundamental sympathy for Hamas and the easy channels of communication with it were among the reasons Hamas chose to move its activities to the country. After the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal in 2011 and the settling of the deported terrorists in Turkey, Hamas’ activities increased to the point where Turkey became a base of operations.
- In recent years Hamas military-terrorist operatives have handled terrorist networks in Judea and Samaria from Turkey. The country’s military importance increased in view of Hamas efforts to encourage terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, given its policy of restraint in the Gaza Strip. In December 2019 the British daily Telegraph published an exposé of the growth of Hamas terrorism from Turkey (Telegraph, December 18, 2019). The Turkish foreign ministry issued a denial, claiming Hamas was a legitimate organization which had won the elections in the Gaza Strip in 2006, and was recognized by various countries, including Turkey. Therefore, according to the statement, there was nothing to prevent Turkey from having relations with Hamas at various levels. Turkey rejected the accusation that it enabled Hamas to use its territory for activities against Israel or any other country.
- On October 22, 2020, the London Times published an article revealing that according to Western intelligence services, Hamas maintained covert headquarters in Turkey for cyberwarfare and intelligence operations. According to the article, the headquarters had been established in Istanbul in 2018 and operated separately from Hamas’ official offices, which were also in the city and dealt mainly with coordination and funding. Hamas operatives officially posted to Turkey were not aware of the operations of the secret unit directed, according to the article, by Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip without the knowledge of the Turkish government. The unit was headed by a Hamas operative named Sameh Saraj, who lived in the Gaza Strip, and reported directly to Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip. The unit’s main missions were the acquisition of dual-use equipment, which could be used to manufacture weapons; cyber activity coordination; coordination activity against those in the Arab world who oppose Hamas and monitoring and overseeing the loyalty of Hamas operatives.
- In the past the Israeli security forces exposed many terrorist networks and squads in Judea and Samaria handled to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. They included showcase attacks which were directed and funded by Hamas operatives in Turkey, some of whom had undergone training in the country (Israeli Security Agency website, August 19, 2014).
- In addition, Turkey serves as a base from which to transfer funds to terrorist operatives in Judea and Samaria and to Hamas’ headquarters in the Gaza Strip. The raising, laundering and transfer of funds by Hamas operatives in Turkey was extensively described in September 2019 by the American Treasury Department. The report made it clear that financial support from Iran reaches Hamas through Turkey (and sometimes Lebanon), and from there through money-changers to Hamas operatives and enablers.
- For example, a Telegraph Middle East reporter revealed that Turkey had granted citizenship to 12 senior Hamas operatives, some of whom live there with Turkish names. A “senior source” said that the 12 had received Turkish citizenship and passports while five more were in the process of receiving them. In some instances the families of operatives also received citizenship. It was also reported that the terrorist operatives had dealt with raising funds and directing terrorist attacks. Among the senior operatives who received citizenship were Zakariya Najib, a Hamas operative who oversaw a plan to assassinate Nir Barkat when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and other Israeli public figures; Jihad Yaghmour (the Hamas representative in Turkey); Hashem Hijaz; twfo others also received Turkish citizenship and passports (The Telegraph, August 13, 2020).
 For further information, see, the December 24, 2019 bulletin, “Turkey as a Terrorism-Sponsoring State: Turkey allows Hamas to conduct terrorist activities from its territory, including the handling of terrorist squads in Judea and Samaria and the transfer of funds to Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to finance terrorism.” ↑
 The claim is not exact because Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force and the persecution and execution of Fatah and PA activists and operatives. ↑
 A false claim. Turkey enables terrorist operatives to use its territory, as has repeatedly been proven by interrogations of captured operatives in Israel and reports issued by the American Treasury Department. ↑
 For further information, see the September 19, 2019 bulletin, New designations recently published by the US Department of State and Department of the Treasury reveal Turkey’s central role as a hub from which Hamas handles its financial matters, including funding terrorist networks in Judea and Samaria.“