Photo: Flash90

Israel seizes Gaza shipments

Israel’s security establishment remains highly-concerned over the replenishment of Hamas’ arsenal of low-cost, home-made rockets, largely constructed with civilian materials with Iranian financing and expertise.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz this week signed seizure orders on millions of dollars worth of materials on their way to terrorist groups in Gaza.

The move followed “a collaborative effort of the Defense Ministry’s National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing, the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) and Border Crossings Authority in the Israel Ministry of Defense,” according to a Defense Ministry statement obtained by TV7.

The seized contraband, reportedly intended “to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom Passing in the lead-up to the recent fighting,” included potassium chloride, glycerin, polyurethane, fiberglass and communications equipment.

“While these supplies can serve civilian and military purposes, their suspected destination was a Hamas military wing’s manufacturing site,” stressed the Defense Ministry.

Israel’s top defense chief has signed more than 20 such seizure orders so far this year to stop smuggled supplies and equipment from reaching Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza.  He also authorized the confiscation of millions of gold discovered during multiple attempted smuggling operations from Gaza into the West Bank – as part of Hamas’ effort to fund Palestinian terrorism against Israelis in Judea and Samaria. in what were suspected attempts by Hamas to fund terrorism in that region.

In order to prevent further Iranian financing of Palestinian terrorism, this morning Minister Gantz designated two companies owned by the money exchanger Zuhir Yunes Shamalch as terrorist organizations over their involvement in transferring millions of dollars from the Islamic Republic to Hamas.

“We will continue to target the Iran-Hamas axis, and disrupt the funding channels which serves the military wings of the terrorist organizations,” declared the Israeli Defense Minister.

According to a Defense Ministry statement, “intelligence collected and processed by the Military Intelligence Directorate since 2019, ‘Al-Markaziya li-siarafa’ (formerly known as ‘Al Mutahadun For Exchange’) and ‘Arab Trading Company China’ have been facilitating the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Hamas annually, specifically to the military wing of the organization.”

The funds are part of “the framework of assistance” granted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force to terror groups “acting against Israel,” that were transferred “via the Hawala system” with the “full knowledge of the individual who owns both of the companies,” read the statement.

The designation by Defense Minister Gantz was made in accordance with a recommendation by the National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing (NBCTF) and powers granted to him under the Anti-Terrorism Law.

This designation, said the Israeli Defense Ministry, “serves as an additional element in preventing the military buildup of the military wing of Hamas and preventing its recovery from the severe damage it sustained during Operation Guardian of the Walls.” Moreover, it also “sends a clear message to the merchants of Gaza, the message being that any financial activity with companies owned by Shamalch will lead to the levying of financial sanctions and the prevention of import to and export from the Gaza Strip. The designation also potentially limits and prevents the business and financial activity of these companies.”

“The Minister of Defense will utilize all the tools available to him to thwart the financial activity of the recognized companies and those who own and operate them, at the border crossings and globally,” underscored the statement, stressing that Minister Gantz “will not allow for businesspeople to fund terrorist organizations which act against the State of Israel.”

Both the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel during the recent 11-day conflict, are deemed foreign terrorist organizations by Israel, the United States and other Western nations. Both terror groups had boosted the quantity and quality of their rockets since the last Gaza conflict with Israel in 2014.

“The silent world should know that our weapons, by which we face the most advanced arsenal produced by American industry, are water pipes that engineers of the resistance turned into the rockets that you see,” boasted PIJ leader Ziad Al-Nakhala in the waning days of Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Israeli is now forced to contend with a quandary over how to facilitate international assistance to rebuild Gaza and meet the humanitarian need of its residents while preventing Hamas and PIJ from transforming ordinary items such as pipes, sugar and concrete into weapons.

A senior European official speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity said, “We were extremely surprised by Hamas’ capacities this time around. They had long-distance rockets they didn’t have before. That is all down to Iran.”

The majority of the rockets, analysts said, were short-range, unsophisticated and homemade.

“They’re extremely simple to fabricate and they use metal tubing, metal pipes. They often – believe it or not – will use detritus from Israeli missiles,” President of the American Academy in Berlin and former US State Department coordinator for counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin told the agency.

Rockets became Palestinians ‘weapon of choice’ after Israeli constructed a security fence in 2003 to prevent the infiltration of suicide bombers and gunmen. Hamas and PIJ easily transported factory-grade missiles through the Sinai until the 2013 ouster of Islamist Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, whose successor Abdel Fattah al-Sisi largely choked off that route by destroying tunnels into Gaza. One Israeli analyst told Reuters that Egypt’s crackdown triggered a strategic shift by Hamas to develop local rocket fabrication capabilities with Tehran’s assistance, provided both by Iranians visiting Gaza and Gazans traveling abroad.

Both Israeli and Palestinian sources report that Iran provides funding and instruction for the production of rockets in Gaza with ranges of 200 km (125 miles) or more, with many capable of carrying warheads of hundreds of kilograms of TNT and shrapnel.

An Iranian security official was cited as revealing that Hamas had built at least 3 underground rocket factories in Gaza.

An Iranian diplomat in the region said millions of dollars were handed over to Hamas representatives almost every month, either carried into Gaza or neighboring countries. While “”It does not mean money always came from inside Iran,” said the diplomat on condition of anonymity, “We have businesses (in the region) that funded Hamas and it’s not a secret.”

A western official who follows Hamas activities closely said it is able to tap investment portfolios worth hundreds of millions of dollars in companies across the Middle East. “It controls about 40 companies in Turkey, UAE, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Algeria – which deal mainly in real estate and infrastructure,” the official said.

Another source observed that Hamas is also able to obtain resources from charities sympathetic to its cause across Europe.

Meanwhile, Qatar is also a source of terrorist funding. With Jerusalem’s acquiescence, Doha has provided substantial funding to Hamas in recent years amounting to millions of dollars a month according to some tallies.

While the Qatari money is meant for administrative salaries in the Palestinian enclave, some of it can easily be embezzled by Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

“It’s not rocket science, so to speak. A guy from Qatar comes every month with his suitcases of money accompanied by Israeli soldiers to pay Hamas administrative staff. That then disappears,” said the senior European official.

US President Joe Biden vowed to provide Gaza with aid in the wake of the latest conflict, but made it clear that the transfer would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority – Hamas’ Western-backed rival in the occupied West Bank – “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.”

The US Treasury has vowed to continue work toward identification and the sanctioning of any individuals and entities that support Hamas, while also persisting in pressing foreign partners to implement their own punitive economic measures and actions against the group.

Washington’s former lead diplomat on Israeli-Palestinian peace, Dennis Ross, suggested that either Egypt or other parties “would need to have a physical presence in Gaza to inspect imported goods and monitor their use,” but pointed out that Hamas could object to such monitoring efforts.

An Israeli official was blunt about the challenge, insisting that, “Someone has to find a better way to monitor what’s going in, how it’s supervised and what it’s used for.”

 

In related developments, The IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that following approval of Israel’s political leadership in accordance with the directive of the Minister of Defense, the Kerem Shalom Crossing has been reopened today for the delivery of humanitarian equipment for Gaza including medical equipment, food, medicine and fuel to the private sector.

Last week, terror groups in Gaza targeted similar shipments of aid and medical supplies twice within 24 hours.

According to a statement TV7 obtained from the COGAT Spokesperson’s Unit, passage can resume through the Erez Crossing into Israel for patients to receive life-saving medical procedures, employees of international organizations and foreign journalists.

Moreover, the fishing zone in the Gaza Strip reopened to 6 nautical miles from shore starting this morning 6:00 AM.

COGAT stressed that all of “These civilian measures approved by the political echelon, are conditional upon the preservation of security stability.”

— By Erin Viner