Israeli officials seized millions of shekels last week that they said were designated for the Hamas terror organization, and targeted a number of entities they said are Hamas-linked organizations with orders prohibiting the transfer of funds to them. The latest orders serve as a reminder of the scope of the terror organization's worldwide financing network, and Israel's ongoing struggle to disrupt it.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed four cash seizure and restriction orders, his office announced on Sept 2, including a seizure order for $900,000 targeting a Gazan cash exchange center. "We will continue to act against terror in any manner in which it acts and in every place," Gantz said in a statement.
According to Gantz's office, the orders are a "part of the financial campaign against terror operatives, which is coordinated by the National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing (NBCTF) in the Ministry of Defense, together with the GSS [General Security Services – the Shin Bet], IDF Military Intelligence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other parties."
The NBCTF was founded in 2018 as designated authority that tracks down and targets terror financing around the world.
A glance at the latest seizure orders provides some indication of the scope of terror financing network, which extends from Gaza, and encompasses the Middle East and Europe.
According to the NBCTF website, entities targeted in the seizure include two people who run a money changing and transfer center in Gaza, from which an order seized $900,000. Terror financing cash seized in such efforts is reinvested by Israel into basic goods and assistance programs for Gazan civilians.
Another order restricted the transfer of property and funds to two people who serve as board members of iPalestine, a Britain-based organization that is "designated in Israel as a terror organization," Gantz's office said.
Another order targeted the CEO of the Lebanese-based Palestinian Association for Human Rights, an organization Gantz's office said "belongs to Hamas and is designated as a terror organization in Israel."
Copies of the orders were sent to banks in Israel and around the world, a course of action that should lead to the "imposition of additional restrictions on these organizations, institutions and individuals," according to Gantz's office.
The terror financing activities described in the seizure orders "reflect the broad scope of Hamas's financial activities, which are worldwide," Brigadier-General (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and former head of the research division in the IDF military intelligence branch, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
"We see this activity in Lebanon, in Britain, and in many other places. In the past, Israel intercepted funds from the U.S., where Hamas had a large center," Kuperwasser said. Hamas's financing network is made up of organizations that raise and transfer funds, often doubling up as charities, he said.
That center, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, saw its assets frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department late in 2001. The charity and five former officials were convicted in 2008 of charges related to illegally funneling more than $12 million to Hamas.
"The money reaches Hamas's military and civilian activities. This activity requires Israel to gather information on how the money is raised and used. The campaign to disrupt this has legal and economic components, and the campaign also must be broad, to reflect the activities it targets," Kuperwasser added. "Israel has already declared that some of these organizations are terrorist entities. Now, it is taking steps to hit them and their ability to move funds."
Kuperwasser noted that prior to being outlawed in 2015, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel was involved in transferring funds from international sources to Hamas elements in the field.
Ultimately, Israel's campaign to block Hamas fundraising is part of the ongoing struggle against Hamas, he said. In 2019, the Israel Defense Forces struck a Hamas financing operative in the Gaza Strip, who funneled Iranian cash to the terror organization.
Much of the money funds Hamas's incitement and indoctrination program, as well as social outreach programs, all aimed at creating popular obligation to Hamas and its ideology, and enabling future recruitment drives, said Kuperwasser. Such activity occurs in the West Bank and in Gaza, Hamas's base.
"It also goes to military capabilities, like buying material to make explosives for rockets," Kuperwasser said.
Israel, Gantz vowed, "will continue to act against terror in any manner in which it acts and in every place." His office added that "the defense establishment, through the National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing in the Ministry of Defense, will pursue terrorist organizations in Israel and around the world, and will work to sever the chain of distribution for terror funding."
For Hamas, the terror financing network is just one source of funding for its military wing, the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, which is estimated at around 30,000 operatives, and armed with a growing arsenal of rockets, drones, bomb boats, combat tunnels, and elite terror squads designed to infiltrate Israel.
Hamas is increasingly desperate to find solutions for Gaza's growing civilian economic-humanitarian needs, which it has neglected due to its prioritization of the military wing. A recent unofficial truce reached with Israel was enabled partly by an agreement by Qatar to increase its funding to the Gaza Strip. According to reports, the Qatari aid package was increased from $25 million to $30 million a month (some reports say $34 million), which goes to tens of thousands of Gazan families, and includes $10 million a month for the purchase of fuel for Gaza's local power station.
Qatar transferred more than $1.1 billion to Gazans between 2012-18 reflecting the Gulf state's desire to influence the Strip.
Taxes Hamas imposes on goods entering the Strip from Egypt, such as gasoline and cigarettes, raised $500 million in 2018. Unfortunately, most of that money goes to the military wing, and Hamas seeks funding from outside players to prevent an economic meltdown among its civilians.
The latest example of how Hamas uses some of its funds surfaced Monday, when the Shin Bet announced that it had uncovered a Hamas plot to recruit an Israeli Arab citizen, teach him to make him explosives, and direct him to attack a target in Israel.
According to the Shin Bet, the citizen, 30-year-old Mahmoud Maqdad, is married to a Gazan woman and traveled back and forth between Israel and Gaza. He plotted to bomb a bus station outside of a large shopping center in the southern part of central Israel.
The thwarted attack sheds "further light on the activities of a terrorist infrastructure operating on behalf of Hamas in the Strip, which was already exposed at the start of 2020 with the arrests of additional agents, Israeli passport soldiers, and which continues to recruit Israeli citizens for espionage and terror attacks in Israeli territory," Shin Bet said.
A senior Shin Bet source added that the Hamas military wing is investing significant efforts in setting up a terror infrastructure in Israel "as part of its systematic and broad activities vis-à-vis the Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. This underlines the strategy that the Hamas leadership continues to lead to destabilize the area all of the time, despite and alongside the efforts to reach a [truce] arrangement."
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
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