Hamas has been using crypto exchanges to receive digital tokens from Iran since roughly 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Not only Hamas but affiliated groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) had received large sums of digital money from Iran in the years leading up to the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Crypto reportedly allowed the groups to evade interception of its physical paper bills and goods by Israeli authorities and others.
This began when Iran’s financial point person in Gaza was killed by an Israeli precision strike in 2019. He was in charge of the “hawala network,” an underground operation to transfer cash and goods that allowed Iran to finance Hamas’ military efforts.
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) November 12, 2023
Hawala was taken over by a Palestinian businessman named Zuhair Shamlakh, who implemented new strategies around Israeli blockades like crypto exchanges.
Israel’s National Bureau for Counter-Terror Financing (NBCTF) has ordered seven seizures of Gazan crypto funds since 2021. Shamlakh was named in five of them. At least $134 million in crypto has been counted across wallets connected to Palestinian Islamic Jihad according to Tel Aviv analytics firm BitOK.
According to the NBCTF, these funds and exchanges, which were housed alongside transactions to non-violent commercial entities, were also used to funnel aid to Hamas. Crypto has been “an essential part for their operational activity,” a senior official at NBCTF said of Iran and hawala-connected groups.
Shamlakh denied allegations that he was transferring money from Iran in 2020 when the Israeli defense ministry ordered to seize his company Al Mutahadun’s assets. “Pure lies and slander,” Shamlakh said of Israel’s claims.
The U.S. claims that Iran has given Hamas about $100 million every year and is the militant group’s main benefactor. Hamas also reportedly funds its operations through an international investment portfolio, charity organizations, foreign aid, and Gaza tax revenues.
Meanwhile, Hamas’ leaders are worth billions of dollars and “live in the lap of luxury,” according to a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Hamas bosses Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh are worth about $4 billion each, and its political bureau leader Mousa Abu Marzouk is worth $3 billion.