Terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and radical Islamic groups, thrive through military recruitment, arms acquisition, political and international public support, ideological backing, and securing financial resources. This overview explores how these groups sustain themselves and examines the characteristics of endorsing regimes. Note that due to the covert nature of terrorist activities, the information provided is indirect, with figures being estimations, albeit from reliable sources.
Hamas generates over $1 billion annually, with only $360 million from direct revenue, primarily through taxes on imported goods, including those related to humanitarian aid. Its main income source comes from foreign funding, facilitated by sympathetic complicit governments and individuals, often involving money laundering and other illicit fund transfers. For instance, the IDF recently discovered $1.3 million in various currencies, including Iraqi, Jordanian, and U.S. dollars.
Outside Funding of Hamas and radical regimes in the Middle East
Hamas Financial Investments: Similar to the exploitation of legitimate companies by the Mafia, as portrayed in “The Godfather,” an estimated $500 million annually is believed to originate from quasi-legal investments and legitimate companies that funnel funds to Hamas while adeptly concealing them. For instance, Trend GYO, an Istanbul-listed firm, secured an official contract to build Istanbul Commerce University, despite facing U.S. sanctions for channeling funds to Hamas.
Hamas’ Exploitation of Humanitarian Aid: From 2014 to 2020, U.N. agencies spent nearly $4.5 billion in Gaza, some of which was diverted to Hamas military activities. Hamas has been caught pilfering humanitarian aid from UNWRA, intended for the injured and destitute. Unfortunately, UNWRA has been complicit in failing to report or prevent this abuse.
Charities and humanitarian aid: Corrupt charities serve as conduits for Hamas to access funds, often falsely claiming to aid impoverished Muslims worldwide. Terror groups deceive non-radicalized Muslim followers, misappropriating Zakat, a mandatory 2.5 percent donation in Islam. With nearly 2 billion Muslims globally, even a small percentage diverted to Hamas is a substantial amount.
Exploitation of lax regulatory control over crypto currency: Between August 2021 and this past June, Hamas and the Jihad raised over $130 million in crypto, and moved millions among each other.
The influence of oil revenue: The Middle East, with a surplus of oil revenue, is evident in OPEC’s 2022 net revenue of $622 billion. Much of the funding for radical regimes is undoubtedly sourced from this oil income.
Oil Revenue: Iran’s enormous source of wealth is its oil revenue in 2023 is estimated to be up to $41 billion.
Financial support for Syria: Iran annually allocates approximately $16 billion to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria in a civil war which has displaced over 12 million people and resulted in about 800,000 deaths, including 4,000 Palestinians.
Financial support for Hamas and Hezbollah: Iran provides an estimated $700 million for Hezbollah, along with $70-$100 million for Hamas.
Arming and training: Iran arms, trains, and provides advanced technology to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), contributing to deadly attacks on Israelis, including the October 7 massacre. The substantial subsequent damage in Gaza is largely a result of Israel’s efforts to eliminate the large number of Iranian supplied and / or funded rockets and launchers found in Gaza.
Subterfuge: To evade American sanctions restricting fund transfers to designated terrorist organizations, Hamas employs unlawful tactics such as shell companies, front entities, sham charities, virtual currencies, real estate, investments, trade-based money laundering, and hawala (direct money transfer). Pro-Hamas regimes, primarily Iran but also Turkey and others, complicitly support these tactics. In this ongoing cat-and-mouse game, Hamas experiences both successes and failures. For instance, on Nov 14, the US Treasury imposed a third round of sanctions on Hamas officials and members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad involved in transferring money from Iran to Gaza.
Hezbollah: Iran has trained thousands of fighters within its camps. It also actively supports the Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah, like Hamas, also calls for the destruction of Israel.
The Axis of Resistance: The Iran-led axis of resistance, include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Houthi rebels, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. They oppose normalization with Israel and perceive the October 7 conflict as advancing Iran’s destabilizing geopolitical agenda, likely timed to disrupt the Abraham Accords and hinder Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement policy towards Israel.
Qatar has extensive revenue from oil. They reported a profit of $42.5 billion in 2022.
Despite not directly participating in the fighting, Qatar has played an intricate role in the Israel-Hamas conflict. In addition, it has assisted the US in managing non-Israel-related Middle East altercations.
Qatar was one of the first Gulf Arab states to establish official trade ties with Israel in the 1990s. But Israel’s office in Doha, the capital, was permanently closed after Israel’s war in Gaza in 2009.
The Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniyeh, Moussa , and Khaled Mashal live in Doha, and are known to maintain a luxurious lifestyle. While most Gaza residents live in poverty, Abu Marzuk’s wealth is estimated at $3 billion, while senior leaders Khaled Mashal and Ismail Haniyeh are each worth about $4 billion.
Qatar has contributed $1.3 billion in aid to Gaza and the Palestinian Authority. The majority of this aid was considered legitimate. Up until October 7, the monthly transfer of $25 million to Gaza, for the civilian population, was coordinated with Israel.
While purportedly earmarked exclusively for civilian purposes, given the extensive and sophisticated military infrastructure in Gaza, including hundreds of miles of tunnels, it is credible to assume that Qatar representatives were aware and complicit in the diversion of funds for armament and military infrastructure buildup. Israel, unfortunately, only fully grasped the extent of the infrastructure and weaponry accumulation during their incursion.
Qatar, serving as an intermediary in negotiations between Israel and Hamas has played a crucial role for the release of hostages. Despite not publicly condemning Hamas attacks, Israel has turned to Qatar to secure the release of hostages due to its influence over Hamas. While these interactions may be viewed as objectionable, they are undertaken in the interest of saving lives. Israel’s historical memory of hostages not released, emphasizes the importance of swift deal-making in such situations.
Qatar has long hosted or directly talked to groups that the U.S. and Europe do not want to deal with directly. That has helped Qatar maintain relations with a wide range of players from Washington to Tehran. Qatar hosts thousands of U.S. troops at the Al Udeid Airbase, which also serves as the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command. Doha has helped free Western hostages held by extremist groups in Syria.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen involves the internationally recognized government fighting against Houthi militants, with Iran providing weapons and support to Houthi militants and ISIS-Yemen who engage in attacks against Saudi Arabia. The UN reports over 150,000 deaths in Yemen, with an ongoing famine causing estimates of more than 227,000 additional deaths. Since October 7, the Houthis have launched missiles at Israel and hijacked a ship they mistakenly believed to be Israeli.
Saudi Arabia traditionally supports Fatah but not extremist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, considering their cruelty contrary to Islamic values. This stance aligns with Saudi interests in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East. Before October 7, Saudi Arabia was in the process of joining the Abraham Accords.
Akin to the Osama Bin Laden story and 9/11, where Saudi funds were used to sponsor terrorism against the US, contrary to Saudi policy, some funds have been diverted to support Hamas. In 2015, the US Treasury Department revealed that a dual UK and Jordanian citizen in Saudi Arabia facilitated the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from Iran to Saudi Arabia to finance Hamas’ Qassam Brigades and Gaza activities.
Sudan: Sudan is another state supporter of Hamas and in one known case, has transferred almost $20 million to Hamas. Like many of the Islamic fundamentalist regimes, Sudan is embroiled in a conflict which an estimated 9,000 people have been killed and another 5.6 million forced to flee their homes.
Turkey: Turkey has supported Hamas including since October 7, and allowed Turkey’s banks to help Hamas dodge American sanctions.
Egypt: Egypt is not an active supporter of Hamas and has played an instrumental positive role in the hostage release process.
Jordan: Jordan, with a large Palestinian population and including Queen Rania who is of Palestinian ancestry, has vocally supported recent Hamas actions and has since recalled its ambassador to Israel.
Russia: In November 2018, the Treasury Department uncovered a complex “oil-for-terror” network via Iran and Syria which allowed Russia to evade U.S. sanctions and Iran to fund its proxy organizations across the Middle East including Hamas. With regards to the recent conflict, Russia has provided political support for the Hamas atrocities even though several of the hostages also have dual Israeli and Russian citizenship.
Exploitation of Western Countries
United States: In 2018, actions by the US National Strategy for Combating Terrorism led to the conviction of several senior officials who received prison sentences for funneling $12 million to Hamas from the Holy Land Fund for Relief and Development (HLF), once the largest Muslim charity in the US.
United Kingdom:A Palestinian aid worker and Gaza manager for World Vision International, headquartered the U.K., was sentenced in 2022 to twelve years in prison for diverting $50 million of World Vision’s budget and large quantities of construction materials to Hamas over a period of ten years.
- While the international focus is riveted on the Hamas-Israel conflict, particularly the destruction in Gaza, the vast majority of the turmoil and devastation in the Middle East stems from actions by Islamic fundamentalist regimes and not related to Israel.
- Alongside committing atrocities, Hamas diverts funds from ostensibly legal ventures, charities and even humanitarian aid meant for Gaza citizens,for its own Hamas interests.
- Many international individuals, organizations, and Muslims have been deliberately misled into believing that the goals of Hamas and similar extremist Islamic groups are constructive and justified when in reality they have all led to untold devastation mostly for Arabs in the Middle East.
- The excess oil revenue in the Middle East makes it difficult to prevent funds from flowing to radical Islamic organizations.
- Effectively curbing Hamas and other Middle East terrorist activities necessitates action against regimes supporting terrorism and dismantling the financial and armament support mechanisms for radical Islamic groups.
- Israel’s inability to prevent external financial support for Hamas, highlights the need for a coordinated global effort to halt funds to Hamas and the other extreme Arab fundamentalist groups.
Disclaimer / disclosure: The data used in this blog, are all estimates and drawn from reliable public domain internet sources.