Reviewed by BERNIE BELLAN
Elsewhere on this website I referred to a book that I had just finished reading, and which I said that I would review. Although it has a much longer title than simply Harpoon (Harpoon Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters) I will refer to it in this review as Harpoon.
Since this book was just recently published, I doubt that many readers would be aware of it yet. But, for anyone who has anything more than a passing interest in Israel’s ongoing war against terrorism, Harpoon is a must-read. Not only does it provide insight into many aspects of Israeli tactics in combating terrorism, it also reveals many previously confidential details about that fight.
To begin with, one must understand that organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas are not only terrorist organizations, they are also very much criminal organizations – engaged not only in a violent war with Israel, but especially in Hezbollah’s case, also in fomenting a world-wide crime network centered primarily around drug dealing. According to the authors of Harpoon, Hezbollah earns over $1 billion a year from its drug dealing activities.
In order to sustain their terrorist activities moreover, both Hamas and Hezbollah (as well as other terrorist organizations) have relied upon the cooperation of willing financiers, including banks, money changers, so-called charitable institutions, and many crooked government officials. (One of the most eye-opening chapters of Harpoon details the total involvement of Venezuela’s government under the late Cesar Chavez in helping to transform Hezbollah into one of the world’s largest purveyors of illicit drugs. Since Venezuela is now teetering upon the edge of total economic collapse, according to the authors of Harpoon Hezbollah has now shifted the centre of its drug smuggling operations to West Africa, where other corrupt governments have been all too willing to cooperate in establishing bases from which most of the heroin and cocaine that is smuggled into Europe are located.)
Who are the authors of Harpoon? I have had the pleasure of meeting one of them: Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who is the head of an organization about which I have written several times, and which is known as “Shurat HaDin”. (In English it is known as the “Israel Law Centre”.) The other author is Samuel M. Katz, who has written several books, including The Ghost Warriors: Inside Israel’s Undercover War Against Suicide Terrorism.
Although Harpoon is a compelling read, one should be forewarned that it is laced with extensive details that are heavily footnoted. It is not a spy novel in the classic John Le Carré style. And, while it does follow events chronologically, it shifts focus from time to time from quite exciting descriptions of undercover Israeli operations undertaken against various individuals who were heavily involved in the financing of terrorist operations to more turgid accounts of legal maneuvers undertaken by Shurat HaDin against terrorist organizations in American courts.
If there can be said to be one central figure in this book, however, it is the late Meir Dagan, who was not only a military hero for Israel – whose exploits both as a brilliant undercover operator and as a courageous officer on the battlefield in numerous wars led to his becoming a major general in the IDF, he was the founder of the task force that became known as “Harpoon” (hence the title of the book). As well, Dagan’s final period of service for Israel was as head of the Mossad from 2001-10, where he was able to continue masterminding brilliant tactical operations that led to the dismantling of a huge portion of the financial infrastructure that sustained both Hezbollah and Hamas. (Sadly, Dagan died in 2016, but not before he was interviewed by the authors and gave compelling insights into how “Harpoon” operated.)
Following the money trail left by the financiers of terrorist operations is never easy, but through diligent and pain-staking work, the combined efforts of several different Israeli organizations, including the IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, and even the Israeli Prison Service – all of whom worked together in “Harpoon”, have led to one victory after another in the war against terrorism. Underlying Dagan’s strategy was the central premise that, as much as fighting terrorists with bullets is a necessary part of the war on terrorism, perhaps even more important is the necessity to “follow the money, devalue the money, seize the money, and kill the money” that finances those terrorist operations.
There are several spectacular operations detailed in Harpoon, the details of which are sometimes revealed for the first time. One of the most fascinating is a description of a very long con game into which Israeli operatives entered with a Lebanese financier by the name of Salah Haj Ezzedine, who was providing Hezbollah with millions of dollars.
Setting up shop in Dubai (which the authors describe as a centre for intrigue very similar to Casablanca during World War II, when agents from a host of different nations all operated in the same area, all under the nominal protection of the host government), Israeli operatives lured Ezzedine into a protracted investment charade. Initially (as is always the case in Ponzi-like schemes), Ezzedine found himself reaping returns on his investments that were in the order of 70% annually. In time, as other Lebanese heard of the incredible rate of return that he was earning, others – including many leading figures in Hezbollah, were clamouring to join in Ezzedine’s investment enterprise. Of course, it all came crashing down in one fell swoop – and hundreds of millions of dollars invested by those Lebanese investors were lost.
Not all of Harpoon’s operations went so smoothly, however. In another chapter in the book, the authors recount another piece of history that occurred not too long ago (in 2010), again in Dubai. This time, Israeli agents who were part of “Harpoon” set about assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top Hamas military commander and financial operative, in his hotel room in Dubai.
It might have all gone very smoothly were it not for the fact that Dubai is laced with video surveillance cameras seemingly everywhere, and each of the Israeli agents was captured on camera at some point. Still, the fact that Israel has been able to assassinate some of the men who have played pivotal roles in providing the financial resources for Hezbollah especially has had, at least to some extent, a deterrent effect on others who might otherwise have aspired to play the same role.
By the way, there is also a chapter describing the assassinations of some of the key scientists working on Iran’s nuclear program. Although those stories have been previously disclosed, it is nonetheless fascinating to read the details of those operations. Again, the decisions to go ahead with those assassinations came from Meir Dagan who, in the same way that he wanted to go after those responsible for financing terrorist operations – not only to undercut terrorist finances, but to send a clear signal to others who might be involved in the same activities that they were also potential targets. In addition, as just mentioned, Dagan wasn’t adverse to sending a signal to Iranian nuclear scientists that they too were vulnerable to Israeli assassination.
In gathering information for this very important book, the authors also rely heavily upon interviews given by two members of what is known as “COGAT” – the “Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories”. Described as “the official Israeli agency for one-on-one interaction with Palestinian entities”, COGAT “helps to build and maintain infrastructure and enable a semblance of normalcy for the Palestinian population”. The experience that members of COGAT gain in interacting daily with Palestinians give them special insight “into the hearts and minds of Palestinian people”.
Why I mention this is that so many supporters of Israel have no real understanding of Palestinians’ minds, nor any desire to attain such an understanding. The men and women who are at the forefront of Israel’s ongoing battle against so many different enemies – be they established armies, terrorist organizations, banks and other financial institutions, or scientists working on a nuclear program, are fully versed in the motivation and behavioural patterns of their erstwhile enemies. Individuals such as Meir Dagan have been ingenious at coming up with new methods to foil Israel’s enemies. What Harpoon vividly demonstrates is that it is Israel’s brainpower, more than its military muscle, that gives it the tactical edge in its ongoing wars with its many enemies.
Yet, it is mentally exhausting to be on your guard in so many different ways. Meir Dagan served as the head of Mossad for nine years, which was almost twice as long as the normal term of five years. The authors describe the position of Mossad Director as “one of the most challenging and tension-filled posts inside Israel’s pressure-packed security establishment. It was the type of responsibility that could give someone with even superhuman resolve a case of high blood pressure, chronic insomnia, and an endless surge of stomach ulcers.”
In light of that description – which would undoubtedly apply equally to the heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence service, it is important to keep in mind that so many of those former heads of Israeli intelligence services have been deeply critical of Israeli government policies – whether it’s six former heads of the Shin Bet criticizing continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the documentary film, “The Gatekeepers”, or former heads of the Mossad, such as Ephraim Halevy (who spoke here at the Kanee Lecture in 2012), and the aforementioned Meir Dagan, warning of the dangers of Israel attacking Iran.
I would rather put my trust in the men who have been at the forefront of Israel’s wars – both on the battlefields and behind the scenes, than politicians and religious zealots who believe in perpetuating a status quo that is ultimately unsustainable.
After reading Harpoon, I am even more glad that Israel has brilliant commanders who can go about protecting that country quietly – at the same time as politicians do so much to undermine confidence in Israel’s institutions.
Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters
by Samuel M. Katz and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner
Published November 2017
Our New Jewish Reality
By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead
Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.
To read the full story on the CBC website, go to https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/israel-gaza-vivian-silver-1.7027333
Israeli show satirizing students in the US who give blind support to Hamas
If you want to take a break from the tension that comes with following every bit of news associated with Israel’s war on Hamas watch this hilarious video satirizing the stupidity of US college kids who give unqualified support to Hamas: https://twitter.com/LeviYonit/status/1721272323087401428?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1721272323087401428%7Ctwgr%5E833a2a425e6d7029d6ef37b7c9042c1d81dbf8ba%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fisraeli-satire-shows-mocking-of-us-student-support-for-hamas-goes-viral%2F