The United States has unveiled a new round of sanctions targeting financial networks providing support to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as well as an Iraqi airline accused of facilitating weapons shipments on behalf the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. The sanctions aim to weaken Hamas and Iranian influence in the region.
US Treasury Sanctions Hamas-Linked Financial Facilitators
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned seven individuals and two crypto currency exchanges accused of facilitating anonymous financial transfers on behalf of Hamas.
Those sanctioned were Mohammad Ibrahim Abdulkader Akleh, Abed Awad Abed Jaber Asakra, Sameh Muhamad Sarsak, and four other individuals associated with the Amma Lifestyle crypto exchange and My2Core fintech company, who allegedly provided services to enable Hamas to covertly transfer funds internationally. Amma Lifestyle and My2Core themselves were also designated.
In its announcement, OFAC stated that these networks “have facilitated anonymous donations likely intended to support Hamas’s terrorist agenda.” The action freezes any US assets held by those sanctioned and generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them.
Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson stated: “The individuals designated today have enabled Hamas’s military wing to benefit from anonymized fund raising and international financial transfers in support of its egregious acts of violence against Israeli civilians and Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”
UK, Australia Also Impose New Hamas-Related Sanctions
In coordinated actions, the UK and Australia also announced new sanctions targeting Hamas financial networks on Monday.
The UK sanctioned three Hamas financiers, Kamal Abdelrahman Koyoumdjie, Elias Subhi Isaaq and Fawaz Mahmud Ali Nasser, accusing them of having “financed and supported acts of terrorism on behalf of Hamas.”
Meanwhile, Australia designated Houssam Yassin, Kamal Abdelrahman Koyoumdjie, Youssef Ayman Abu Dharr and My2Core Pte Ltd for links to Hamas financing.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the coordinated actions “will deal a blow to Hamas’ financial support networks and signal our disgust at their activities.”
Iraq’s Fly Baghdad Airlines, CEO Also Slapped With US Sanctions
In a separate action targeting Iranian influence in Iraq, the US Treasury also sanctioned Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad, its Chairman Ghaith Al-Hamdani, and other Iraqi militia groups accused of supporting Iran’s Quds Force.
The low-cost Fly Baghdad airline was accused of shipping weapons on behalf of the Quds Force. The Treasury Department alleges Al-Hamdani has worked with the Quds Force since 2020 to smuggle weapons to conflicts across the Middle East. Two other Iraqi militia leaders were also sanctioned.
Brian Nelson said: “The United States will continue to take concrete and forceful actions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies in Iraq, and elsewhere, who undermine Iraqi stability and whom perpetuate violence against Iraqi citizens.”
Background – Hamas, Gaza and Recent Fighting With Israel
Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni militant group that has de facto governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning elections and forcefully ousting its Fatah political rivals. It is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, European Union and others.
Hamas and other Gaza militant groups have fought four wars against Israel since 2008, with the latest 11-day conflict erupting in May 2021. Hundreds of rockets were fired at Israeli cities from Gaza during the fighting, while Israel carried out extensive airstrikes trying to degrade Hamas’ rocket arsenal and tunnels. Over 250 people were killed, mostly Palestinians.
Despite an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that has largely held since then, tensions remain high along the Israel-Gaza border. Sporadic rocket fire and Israeli reprisals are common.
Iran Support for Hamas and Regional Proxies
Hamas was historically mainly supported by Iran, receiving millions per year in funding as well as weapons supplies smuggled through tunnels into Gaza. Ties frayed after 2011 when Hamas broke from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key Iranian ally, over his brutal crackdown on protests.
More recently there have been signs that Tehran and Hamas are rebuilding closer relations. Last year, a Hamas delegation visited Iran and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei pledged Iran would back resistance against Israel by Hamas and other Gaza groups.
Iran also backs a range of Shia militia proxies across the Middle East. These include Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi militia groups that have attacked US and partner forces.
The Quds Force – the elite overseas arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) – plays a key role arming, training and directing these proxy militias to project Iranian influence and counter US presence.
Impact of Latest US Sanctions
These new US sanctions significantly expand previous actions targeting Hamas financing and come after recent National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s trip to Israel, where Iran’s regional activities were discussed. They signal the Biden administration’s continued priority on countering Iranian influence and choking off funding streams to armed groups.
The sanctions on cryptocurrency exchanges and hawala remittance facilitators aim to stamp out new anonymous international funding conduits exploited by Hamas since previous crackdowns on the group’s finances. While Hamas may be able to eventually shift to alternatives, the sanctions pressure makes operating more difficult and costly for the group.
Cutting off fly Baghdad airlines also directly hits a IRGC Quds Force weapons smuggling channel at a time when Iran continues sending armed drones and missiles to state and non-state allies. However sanctions have seldom deterred Tehran from engaging in what it sees as core objectives. It will likely shift transport routes but weapon supplies are still likely to continue flowing.
The UK Foreign Secretary said the coordinated effort sends “a clear signal to Iran that we will continue to work together to constrain the malign influence of Iran and its proxies across the Middle East.” Clearly, more action targeting Iranian regional networks can be expected.
What Comes Next?
It remains unclear if recent US pledges of support to struggling Israel-Palestinian relations will continue under the new Republican-controlled Congress. However, US policy backing Israel while confronting groups like Hamas and Iran is unlikely to fundamentally shift.
With Israeli PM Netanyahu’s new right-wing government pushing Jewish settlement expansion and opposing Palestinian statehood, there are concerns the already moribund peace process could be buried for the foreseeable future. This risks further inflaming tensions and setting the stage for another round of Israel-Hamas conflict.
Hamas meanwhile faces growing economic and humanitarian challenges administering Gaza due to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade in place since 2007. Palestinian infighting with Fatah continues hampering rebuilding after intense fighting over the years. The group hopes easing US terror designations could unlock international aid.
However, these new US sanctions targeting financial facilitators linked to Hamas will likely rule that out for now. Unless suffering inside Gaza becomes unbearable, Hamas has little incentive to seriously entertain Israel’s demand to disarm its vast rocket and tunnel arsenal.
So while the sanctions may degrade capabilities, Hamas is poised to remain a disruptive military player inside Palestinian politics – one that could readily spark another outbreak of clashes around Gaza despite the recent period of quiet.
Timeline of Recent Israel – Hamas Clashes
|11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas based in Gaza results in hundreds killed or injured on both sides
|Egypt brokers ceasefire ending hostitilites
|Sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes continue periodically
|Netanyahu returns as Israeli PM leading far-right coalition government
|Concerns grow that moribund peace process could spiral with more extremist Netanyahu coalition
|US, UK and Australia sanction Hamas financial networks and facilitators
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