Turkey is a sanctuary for terrorism financing

Since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks against Israel, much of the international focus on Turkey has centered on its patronage of Hamas. Along with Qatar and Iran, Turkey provides the terrorist entity with safe harbor and material support. What is less widely acknowledged and reported is Ankara’s emerging support of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a capable terrorist entity that threatens civilian shipping routes in the Red Sea, as well as militarily engaging and killing U.S. service members.

With an emerging track record of active support for purveyors of terrorism, Turkey merits being placed on the list of “terrorist sanctuary” countries monitored by the State Department. Instead, what we see is a persistent and desperate attempt by the Biden administration to explore ways in which we can reward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and pursue avenues to “reset” the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship.

On Dec. 28, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Turkish company Al Aman Cargo for financing arms transactions to Houthi rebels on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. In the same designation, Treasury officials also sanctioned a number of currency exchange houses located in Turkey and Yemen for their role in transferring millions of dollars to the Guard’s Quds Force.

Al Aman was established in Turkey in 2014, following Erdogan’s decision to terminate all investigations in Turkey centered on rooting out persons and entities working on behalf of the Guard. This was no mere decision to cease an investigation. Worse: Erdogan hunted down the team of law enforcement and prosecutorial teams that were conducting the Guard hunt in what can only be described as a bold effort to allow Turkey to become a permissive environment for the fundraising and weapons procurement activities for the Guard.

None of this is surprising, as Erdogan’s championing of Hamas is not limited to verbal praise of the terrorist group, which he has referred to as a group of “mujahadeen” (freedom fighters). Turkey is reputedly one of the hubs, if not the major one, from which Hamas in Gaza has been able to procure approximately $1 billion of its annual operating revenue, which it uses to finance its terrorism operations. Close to $750 million is alleged to come from friendly governments, including Iran.

What’s fascinating is that Turkey’s financial system is turning a blind eye to the millions of dollars being trafficked through its banking system, currency, and crypto exchange networks and construction companies’ building ventures. Kuveyt Turk bank is a mainstream financial institution in Turkey that is presently being sued in the United States “for aiding and abetting Hamas’s terrorist activity.” The Turkish government is one of the largest shareholders.

Trend GYO, a Turkish construction conglomerate estimated to be worth $500 million, was designated in 2022 for “generat[ing] revenue for the terrorist group through the management of an international investment portfolio.” It has gone about this by attracting investment from persons sympathetic to Hamas’s cause, who invest in legitimate construction projects, the proceeds of which are then transferred to pro-Hamas “charities,” ultimately finding their way to Hamas’s accounts in Gaza. It is no exaggeration to reach the obvious conclusion that many Turkish banks not only turn a blind eye to terrorism financing but actively facilitate it, with no intervention from the Turkish government.

While the Treasury Department’s actions to designate terrorist entities are crucial, sanctions alone are not sufficient to hold the Turkish government to account. We need a concerted government approach. While the Treasury highlights Turkey’s egregious behavior in support of terrorism financing on a frequent basis, the State Department dangles carrots in an attempt to reward Erdogan.

Recently, Turkey finally (after 18 months!) ratified Sweden’s bid to join NATO. This resulted in the Biden administration greenlighting the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. It was followed by Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland saying to her Turkish counterparts that if Ankara divested itself of a batch of Russian S-400 missiles it purchased in 2019, then “the U.S. would be delighted to welcome Turkey back into the F-35 family.”

There is one enduring reason why multiple U.S. administrations continue to embrace Erdogan no matter what he does, including supporting major terrorist causes: It is based on the U.S.’s pathological fear of “losing Turkey” like it lost Iran in 1979. This is a mistake, and a better way to look at our relationship with Ankara is to ask: What is left to lose?

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