Three Israelis and a fourth man, reportedly from the PA, all businessmen in large companies, were indicted on Monday, for helping illegally smuggle a range of items, such as large volumes of iron, to Gaza groups linked to Hamas in exchange for millions of shekels.
The Southern District Attorney’s Office on Monday filed the indictments with the Beersheba District Court.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said that the defendants provided “raw materials directly to Hamas for the benefit of manufacturing rockets, missiles and other armaments” as well as rebuilding attack tunnel capabilities, which the IDF destroyed during the past summer’s Gaza war.
The indictments and arrests broke down what has been called one of the largest smuggling scams to Gaza in decades.
The affair has shaken broader expectations that Israeli civilians would not try to do business with Hamas following the war and shocked neighbors of the defendants.
The men were named as Mica Peretz from the Eshkol region, Yehoram Alon from Tel Aviv, Nagi Zuareb from Shehade and Tzion Ben-Hamu of Ein Sarid.
Ben-Hamu’s name was under a gag order hours after the names of the others had been announced, but late in the afternoon his name was also released.
The indictment says that the four clearly knew the Gaza groups, which they were providing with raw materials as well as electronics and logistical platforms, were linked to Hamas.
The indictments are connected to five previously unannounced indictments filed against a group of five Palestinians in January: Akram Yassin, Hassan Sharabi, Khaled Lubad, Riyad Masharawi and A-Hakim Shavir.
Their indictments could not be announced until Monday, when the gag order on the entire affair was removed.
The authorities allege that three of the men received “large sums of money” in exchange for materials that Israel banned from entering the Hamas-ruled territory, “since they can be used to rehabilitate the terrorist infrastructure that was hit during Operation Protective Edge.”
In the scheme, over $40 million was spent on purchasing materials for Hamas, with around $30m. spent on iron goods alone and Israelis connected to the sales taking in $1.5m. per month, said the Shin Bet.
According to the indictments, the smuggling is connected with the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, where the materials made their way to major Hamas buyer and operative Osama Zuareb, whom Israel has officially banned from trade.
Despite receiving warnings from the security establishment that Zuareb was banned and to cease selling to him, the defendants used straw man Gaza companies to continue to trade with him clandestinely.
Next, the indictment states that one of those companies “Bridge to the Future,” was founded by Zuareb in December 2014, but registered in his brother Nagi’s name – one of the defendants – to were smuggled into Gaza concealed within humanitarian supplies, according to the security agency.
It pointed out that this continued to show Hamas’s “cynical” use of “Israel’s humanitarian stance” in permitting in to Gaza aid convoys to try to rebuild its military capabilities, even at the possible expense of “its own Palestinian public’s interest.”
According to the Shin Bet, once in Gaza, Hamas operatives were trained to reassemble the parts into military and logistical hardware or for use in rebuilding their attack tunnels.
Ben-Hamu successfully warned Zuareb not to come to the border to conduct one of the deals, “so that the dogs would not arrest him,” referring to Israeli security forces, said the indictments.
The charges include: assisting an enemy in time of war, financing terrorism, fraudulent receipt of an item under aggravated circumstances, money laundering, tax and other crimes.
In announcing the lifting of the gag order, Israeli authorities said, “there is a disconcerting phenomenon in which Israeli business owners do serious harm to the security of the State of Israel in exchange for money.”
The Shin Bet questioned 26 people as part of the investigation and said that various defendants had confessed upfront to involvement in the plan, while claiming that it was only to make money.
The authorities said the operation was a joint effort by the Israel Police, the Shin Bet, the IDF, the Defense Ministry and the Tax Authority.
The arrests of the three individuals were carried out “at the beginning of last month.”
The state requested that the court keep the suspects detained until their trial is complete.
The Defense Ministry released a statement that its border operatives were central partners in thwarting the smuggling operations and catching the accused perpetrators.
The statement said that the ministry has greatly increased its efforts in recent months to catch smuggling as Hamas’s efforts to rebuild its military options have sped up.
It added that security forces blocked 240 smuggling attempts in 2014 and an additional 40 attempts in the early months of 2015.
The Defense Ministry emphasized the advanced technology that it and other arms of border security use to catch smugglers.