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How Israeli intelligence agencies have been neutralizing financial sources of terrorism

Harpoon copyReviewed 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.

Harpoon
Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters
by Samuel M. Katz and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner
Published November 2017
Hachette Books
336 pages

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Features

New website for Israelis interested in moving to Canada

By BERNIE BELLAN A new website, titled “Orvrim to Canada” (https://www.ovrimtocanada.com/ovrim-en) has been receiving hundreds of thousands of visits, according to Michal Harel, operator of the website.
In an email sent to jewishpostandnews.ca Michal explained the reasons for her having started the website:
“In response to the October 7th events, a group of friends and I, all Israeli-Canadian immigrants, came together to launch a new website supporting Israelis relocating to Canada. “Our website, https://www.ovrimtocanada.com/, offers a comprehensive platform featuring:

  • Step-by-step guides for starting the immigration process
  • Settlement support and guidance
  • Community connections and networking opportunities
  • Business relocation assistance and expert advice
  • Personal blog sharing immigrants’ experiences and insights

“With over 200,000 visitors and media coverage from prominent Israeli TV channels and newspapers, our website has already made a significant impact in many lives.”
A quick look at the website shows that it contains a wealth of information, almost all in Hebrew, but with an English version that gives an overview of what the website is all about.
The English version also contains a link to a Jerusalem Post story, published this past February, titled “Tired of war? Canada grants multi-year visas to Israelis” (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/article-787914#google_vignette) That story not only explains the requirements involved for anyone interested in moving to Canada from Israel, it gives a detailed breakdown of the costs one should expect to encounter.

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Message from a Palestinian in Gaza to protesters: “You’re hurting the Palestinian cause”

Protesters at McGill University

A very brave Palestinian who was willing to put his name to paper and write an article for Newsweek Magazine has exposed the utter hypocrisy of all those students – and others, who have been setting up encampments across the U.S. – and now Canada, too.

You can read the article at https://www.newsweek.com/message-gazan-campus-protesters-youre-hurting-palestinian-cause-opinion-1894313

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The Most Expensive Israeli Soccer Transfers

Eran Zahavi

Even if Israel isn’t known as a world soccer power, it has produced plenty of talented players who have made a living in top European leagues. On more than one occasion, an Israeli international has commanded a rather large transfer fee. But who are the most expensive players in Israel’s history? The answer could be a little surprising. We took a look back to find the most expensive Israeli soccer transfers of all time.

Tai Baribo

In 2023, Baribo made the move to MLS, signing with the Philadelphia Union. The reported fee was around $1.5 million, which is one of the highest transfer fees the Union has ever paid for a player.

Omer Atzili

Throughout his career, Atzili has played for a variety of clubs, including stops in Spain and Greece. In 2023, he joined Al Ain in the UAE for a transfer fee of $2.1 million.

Maor Buzaglo

Now retired, Buzaglo was briefly the holder of the richest transfer deal for an Israeli player. After a couple of successful seasons on loan, Maccabi Tel Aviv paid $2.7 million to rival Maccabi Haifa for Buzaglo in 2008.

Dia Saba

Saba made history in 2020 when he joined Al-Nasr, making him the first Israeli player to play for a club in the UAE. At the time, it was a big deal for relations between the two countries. Al-Nasr also paid an impressive $2.9 million transfer fee for the midfielder.

Tal Ben Haim

On multiple occasions, Ben Haim has been sold for more than $1 million. First, there was his move from Hapoel Tel Aviv to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2023 for close to $1.2 million. A few years later, Sparta Prague came calling for him, spending $3.1 million as a transfer fee for the winger.

Itay Shechter

During the prime of his career, Shechter was the type of player who warranted a seven-figure transfer fee. German club Kaiserslautern paid a little over $2.6 million in 2011 to bring Shechter to the Bundesliga from Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Daniel Peretz

When Peretz was sold to Bayern Munich, it wasn’t the most expensive deal involving an Israeli player, although it was arguably the most important. He became the first Israeli Jew to play at Bayern, which is one of the biggest clubs in the world. The transfer fee for Peretz paid by Bayern Munich to Maccabi Tel Aviv was around $5.4 million.

Oscar Gloukh

Gloukh is one of the best young Israeli players right now. He already has three international goals in a dozen appearances to his name. Somehow, Gloukh is already one of the most expensive players in Israel’s history. After coming up with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he moved to Austrian giant Red Bull Salzburg in 2023 for a transfer fee of close to $7.5 million. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him top that number one day.

Liel Abada

Abada has been a part of two huge transfer deals in his young career. In 2021, Scottish club Celtic paid $4.8 million to acquire him from Maccabi Petah Tikva. However, that number was topped in 2024 when Charlotte FC of MLS paid a fee of $8 million for Abada.

With Charlotte FC, Abada competes in North America’s top league, facing teams from both Mexico and Canada. Throughout North America, sports betting has taken off in recent years. That includes betting in Canada, where there is a large collection of trusted sports betting platforms.

Eran Zahavi

To date, Zahavi holds the record for the most expensive transfer fee paid for an Israeli player. It’s fitting for Israel’s former captain and all-time leading scorer. In 2016, Chinese club Guangzhou City paid $12.5 million to get Zahavi from Maccabi Tel Aviv. That record was nearly broken later that year when another Chinese club offered $20 million for Zahavi, who turned it down and stayed with Guangzhou City.

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