Washington – Joseph Braude
Daniel L. Glaser’s remarkable career in the U.S. Treasury Department culminated in his appointment as Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing in the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence — a position he held from 2011 to January 2017. In the course of his work, he tracked the flow of funds between a range of rogue states, including Iran, and the gamut of terror organizations, including Hamas. In his interview with Majalla, Glaser spoke to the strong connection between Iran and Hamas and charges of corruption among Hamas leadership figures. He appraised the commitment by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to clamping down on Hamas, and noted new opportunities for broader regional cooperation to counter terrorist groups.
What is the nature of Iranian support for Hamas?
Iran supports terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and beyond. Iran has long had a foreign policy and a regional policy based on trying to upend the regional order. It is a foreign policy based on trying to destabilize governments and project power throughout the region. Support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah or Hamas gives Iran the opportunity to do just that — to upset international peace and security, and regional peace and security; to destabilize governments that Iran regards as adversaries, which are virtually all governments in the region; and to project Iran’s power and influence.
Iran provides a variety of support to Hamas. My focus has always been on the financial support, and they do provide it to Hamas. Hamas is certainly a terror organization, but at heart it is a fund-raising organization. Like any organization, it subsists on the resources it can generate, and its entire organization is built around its ability to raise funds. It looks to Iran for a portion of those funds.
It’s not on the same level as an organization like Hezbollah which is virtually an extension of the Iranian government, for which there’s a line item in the Iranian budget. But Iran does find it expedient to ensure that Hamas receives support from it.
How does the funding reach Hamas from Iran?
It might arrive there in cash through a number of routes or through informal remittance channels — but ultimately, by necessity, it has to go across the border, through tunnels, border crossings, physically on the bodies of couriers. The funds may go through direct routes from Iran. They could also go through Africa and ultimately up through Egypt. There’s a number of routes it could take. Certainly with the policy that the new Egyptian government has taken with respect to Iran, the Brotherhood, and Hamas, Hamas is in a much weaker state than it has been in the past.
In 2013 following the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, reports emerged that Hamas was going beyond its traditional purview to become involved with the conflict in Egypt. What is the truth of the matter?
Hamas has always focused its terrorist activity on the Palestinian areas and Israel. But Hamas is an offshoot and in some respects part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was substantial coordination between Hamas and the Brotherhood [in Egypt]. In fact, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t.
In studying Hamas financing, did you find indications of Hamas operatives diverting funds?
Part of the attraction of Hamas and the Brotherhood has always been that they seem to be incorruptible — that the governments they’re against are hopelessly corrupt whereas they are pure. But once they come to power, you see that that is not the case with Hamas and the Brotherhood in general: Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood suffer from the same weaknesses and temptations that many corrupt governments suffer from, and to the extent that they put themselves forward as a bulwark against corruption, it is propaganda.
Did you ever intercept evidence indicating particular corrupt practices on the part of Hamas?
I can’t speak to intercepted evidence, but people need only look at how Hamas has managed things in Gaza to draw their own conclusions.
What priority did the U.S. Government assign to tracking Iranian support for Hamas in particular?
The major focus of the U.S. government with respect to Iran has not been Hamas. Rather, the major focus has been Iran’s connection with and support for Hezbollah, simply because of the vast size and support for Hezbollah and the strength and power that Hezbollah is able to wield within the region. Hezbollah’s power is such that it has invaded a foreign country and is actually participating in a regional war. The American focus on Hamas was secondary, partially because Iran’s focus on Hamas was secondary. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t something the U.S. cares about.
To what extent was there interoperability among Hamas and the range of Iranian proxies?
Though Iranian-Hamas relations have waxed and waned over the years, there is fundamentally an unholy alliance across the board from Iran, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Hamas. This is a coalition of seeking disruption within the Middle East, and Hamas was a very big part of that. Once the war started in Syria, and the deterioration of the Syrian state began, Hamas was put in a very uncomfortable situation, because you had elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that were fighting against the Assad regime, and Hamas had a decision to make between its Muslim Brotherhood connections and its Iranian connections. It was a tough decision. Ultimately they withdrew from Syria, much to the dismay of their Iranian supporters. But they were eventually able to patch that up.
How was the rapprochement between Iran and Hamas accomplished?
I am not an expert on the diplomatic relations and discussions between Iran and Hamas. In the end, I suppose the parties found that what bound them together — namely, their desire to wreak havoc in the region — outweighed the issues that were keeping them apart.
How have the Gulf states played into the issue of Hamas financing?
Hamas has traditionally been able to look to the Gulf for financial support. Cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in clamping down on that has been extremely important. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has taken a hard line against Hamas financing and done that in cooperation with the U.S. Hamas is in difficult financial straits right now, and Saudi cooperation in clamping down on their financing is an important part of the reason.
The UAE has always taken a hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood. They are certainly among the most outspoken countries in the world with respect to their distrust of the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition to it. So the UAE is without a doubt one of the staunchest countries in the world in efforts to clamp down on the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The UAE is a financial center, meaning that a tremendous amount of funds flow through it. Some percentage of those funds are naturally going to be illicit, as would be the case in any other financial center, which puts a greater responsibility on the UAE to police its financial system. But the UAE authorities have worked extremely hard to meet that challenge.
What has your view been about the presence of senior Hamas figures in Qatar?
The U.S. designated Hamas as a terrorist organization a long time ago, and has been quite clear that it regards Hamas as a terror organization. The U.S. believes other countries should do likewise and cooperate in the effort against Hamas. There are many countries that have not designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, so it becomes a difficult and complex situation. And even the U.S. has focused more of its efforts against ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah. But that’s not to say that the U.S. has condoned cooperation with Hamas.
I don’t want to get into the politics of Gaza vis a vis Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. I know that’s a dispute that’s being discussed by diplomats even as we speak. But it’s certainly something that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have raised significant concerns about, and something I hope they’ll be able to talk through and work out with the Qatari authorities.
Does the concern about Hamas now shared by the Gulf states and Israel create a basis for new forms of cooperation in countering it?
Of course there are so many opportunities for the Gulf countries and Israel to work together on these issues. Their interests are aligned on a broad array of issues relating to terrorism, Iran, Iran’s interference in the region, and Iran’s nuclear program. There are so many areas that Israel and the Gulf countries can and should be cooperating in, and in many ways they already are, and I think that’s a major international development that has gone largely unnoticed. But compared to other things that are happening in the region, the recognition of mutual interests and the capacity to work together and cooperate I think is a wonderful thing.
What is clear to me is that these governments are communicating with each other and are working together to advance not only their own interest but also the interests of the region and frankly the interests of the international community, including with respect to global efforts against terrorism, to bring stability to the Middle East, and to ensure that Iran does not pursue a nuclear program.