05:53 GMT30 November 2020
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    The Times of London has claimed, citing sources in “Western intelligence services,” that Hamas is operating a secret cyber warfare and counterintelligence center in Istanbul without the knowledge of the Turkish government.

    In a Thursday report, the Times said that the center is about two years old and is used as a window to the outside world for Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip under an almost continuous stage of siege by Israel since winning elections in 2007.

    According to the Times, Hamas runs fundraising operations through the center as well as cyber ops, such as those used to try and phish Israeli soldiers’ mobile phones for information. The site is also reportedly used to purchase equipment for manufacturing weapons, and has even been used for interrogations.

    All this has been done without Ankara’s knowledge or consent, the Times reports. However, Turkey’s ties with the Palestinians, the Gaza Strip and Hamas have steadily grown in recent years.

    In August, the UK’s Telegraph reported that Turkey was granting citizenship to a dozen senior operatives of a Hamas cell, claiming to have seen the Turkish identity papers of one of the group.

    Later that month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a delegation of Hamas’ Political Bureau, the organization’s central leadership body. Washington issued a strenuous objection, noting it has designated Hamas a terrorist organization and that at least one of the delegation was wanted by the US.

    However, Ankara pushed back, with the Turkish Foreign Ministry issuing a statement saying, “Declaring the legitimate representative of Hamas, who came to power after winning democratic elections in Gaza and is an important reality of the region, as a terrorist will not be of any contribution to efforts for peace and stability in the region.”

    In recent years, Turkey has increased its presence in Gazan affairs, investing in a variety of civil projects as Israeli bombardments of the territory have destroyed one facility after another. According to Turkey’s state-owned news outlet Anadolu Agency, between 2005 and 2017, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) carried out 400 projects across Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, including building an olive oil production facility in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis and providing fuel aid to relieve chronic shortages. In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Gaza, Turkey opened a Palestine-Turkey Friendship Hospital to treat those infected by the virus.

    Sarah Feuer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, told the Financial Times last month that Gaza fits into Erdogan’s “geopolitical and ideological considerations.”

    “Erdogan sees emerging alliances in the region as a threat, but he’s also presenting himself as the leader of the Muslim world and flag bearer for Islamist movements, to counter the Emirati-Saudi-Egyptian camp,” Feuer said. “There’s a broader struggle still under way over the contours of the regional order, and that is partly what motivates him.”


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