After targeting Al-Nusrah in August, the United States government has continued its recent spate of terrorist designations, cracking down on Hamas this month. In recent weeks both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Department of State have sanctioned military leaders, supporters, and financiers of Hamas, which was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997 and a Specially-Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) in 2001.
On September 8th, the State Department designated Yahya Sinwar, Rawhi Mushtaha, and Muhammed Deif as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Sinwar and Mushtaha are operatives of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and were arrested in Israel in 1988. Both were released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange involving captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and have called on their comrades to continue kidnapping Israeli citizens and soldiers. Deif is a top commander of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades and has been instrumental in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the deployment of suicide bombers.
Just two days later, the Treasury Department designated four individuals connected to Hamas—as well as a company controlled by one of them—for their roles as financial facilitators. Two of the individuals are close associates of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who has been based in Qatar since 2012.
Salih Muhammad Sulayman al-Aruri is a Hamas political bureau member accused of directing military operations against Israel and facilitating transfers of funds from Saudi financiers to Hamas. Mahir Jawad Yunis Salah, who is Saudi-based but holds dual British and Jordanian citizenship, is a major Hamas financier. The U.S. alleges that, “as head of the Hamas Finance Committee, Salah has overseen the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from Iran to Saudi Arabia to fund the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades and Hamas activity in Gaza,” including the management of front companies and money laundering activities as recently as 2014.
Abu-Ubaydah Khayri Hafiz Al-Agha, a Saudi citizen, is a senior Hamas financial officer. He is accused of soliciting financial contributions from the Palestinian diaspora community, and of transferring millions of dollars to Hamas using his businesses, including Saudi-based Asyaf International Holding Group for Trading and Investment. Egyptian national Mohammed Reda Mohammed Anwar Awad, who owns a money exchange business, is also accused of transferring “tens of millions of dollars for Hamas and its military wing in the Gaza Strip.”
The sanctions are part of a broader pattern of designations in recent months. The Treasury Department has made five separate announcements of counter terrorism designations in just the last six weeks, targeting thirteen individuals or companies. Eight of those have been linked to Hamas.
In addition to a renewed focus on Hamas, the designations are notable for targeting terrorism financiers in Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally. Out of 941 individuals and entities designated as global terrorists by the United States, only 11 are based in Saudi Arabia. There are more SDGT’s based in the United Kingdom (29) and until last week’s designations, there were more based in the United States itself (10). The designations seem to reflect a calculation by U.S. authorities that the impact of the sanctions on terrorist finance in the region ultimately outweighs diplomatic sensitivities. According to an Agence France-Presse report, the designations “could put pressure on any Saudi or other financial institutions processing dollars through US offices or associates for those on the blacklist.”
While the September designations have focused on Hamas, they have not occurred at the exclusion of other terrorist organizations. Hezbollah spokesman Samir Kuntar was also designated by the State Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on September 8th. The following day, it designated Algerian-born Abu Ubaydah Yusuf Al Anabi, a member of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). According to a State Department press release, “he is the leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables and serves as AQIM’s Media Chief.”
The designations may be partly in response to recent concerns—particularly in Israel—that a nuclear deal with Iran will open the financial floodgates to terrorist organizations and Iranian proxies in the region. While Iran and Hamas had broken off relations in recent years, the Wall Street Journal had reported earlier this year that the “rift… has been repaired, and the money is flowing.” The designation of Salah in particular seems to confirm this assessment. Either way, the designations send a clear signal that Hamas is squarely in the administration’s sights. “Treasury is committed to exposing and weakening Hamas, its supporters, and its terrorist agenda,” Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in a written statement. “Today’s action targets key players in Hamas’s international fundraising and operational network.”