The United States and nations around the world battle ISIS and other terrorist groups with special forces and other ground combat troops, pilots of manned aircraft and drones, police, explosives experts, intelligence agents and informers. But to win the fight we also need financial experts who can deprive terrorists of money they require to wage war against us.
Israel – a favorite target of terrorists for decades – has developed a highly effective financial warfare template to hit terrorists in their wallets. The U.S. has already used this template to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups – and now European nations should follow.
Money is the common denominator behind everything that ISIS and other terrorist groups do and threaten to do. Without the cash to fund fighters and leaders, there would be no global jihad against the West. Islamic fundamentalism and despair might inspire terror, but money fuels it.
In 2014, during the fighting in Gaza, the Israeli Air Force incinerated over $10 million in Hamas cash that was earmarked to pay the salaries of terrorists on the front lines. When the money evaporated inside the flash of a missile strike, Hamas had no choice but to seek an end to the conflict.
Israel came to terms with this reality years ago, during the last intifada from 2000 to 2005, when a seemingly endless wave of Palestinian suicide bombers attacked the country’s towns and cities. The Israeli military and security services waged relentless efforts to end the bloodshed, and elite counterterrorist units launched daring raids to kill and capture key terrorists – but the bombings continued.
Israeli leaders realized they needed a new approach – something that could provide short-term benefits and change the long-term paradigm. So Israel shifted its focus to the money that financed everything from bomb-building factories to the cash bonuses issued to the families of suicide bombers.
The Jewish state formed a multiagency task force codenamed Harpoon to wage financial warfare against its enemies. The Harpoon unit followed the terrorist money from its source – whether it was cash raised by charities in the U.S., or multimillion-dollar transfers from Iran, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.
Harpoon expanded its operational reach in 2002. Following the money wasn’t enough. The cash and the accounts had to be taken from the terrorists or destroyed.
U.S. silhouetted soldiers, foreground, walks in front of Syrian children background, at a road that links to Raqqa city, northeast Syria, Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Every part of the Israeli government – from its intelligence services to its tax authority – was mobilized to find ways to deprive terrorists of their money and their access to the international banking system.
Israel even encouraged human rights lawyers to use the power of the U.S. federal courts and multimillion-dollar law suits – brought against the state sponsors of terror and the financial institutions that served them – to place additional pressure on the cash flow that financed attacks.
I was, and remain, one of the attorneys in this effort. We spearheaded billions of dollars in judgments against the likes of Iran, Syria, the Palestinian Authority and North Korea – all on behalf of the victims of terror.
In addition, we were instrumental in closing down banks that served as conduits for terrorist groups like Hezbollah, handling hundreds of millions of dollars in narco-profits that financed atrocities around the world.
Some of the Israeli tactics, such as raiding banks, were criticized in the West – even by President George W. Bush – as being “Wild West” in nature. But eventually, the United States came to appreciate Israel’s tactics and emulated them with the far-reaching muscle that only a superpower could flex.
BEIRUT, LEBANON-SEPTEMBER 22-Hezbollah supporters wave flags during a "Victory over Israel" rally in Beirut's suburbs on September 22, 2006 in Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)
The Americans saluted Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan – the mastermind behind Harpoon – and his understanding that money was the oxygen that enabled the terror beast to live and thrive. Dagan was intent on suffocating this malignant creature through any and all means at his disposal.
In the wake of terrorist attacks in Britain, France, Spain Belgium, Germany and Sweden in recent years, Europeans will need to use the highly effective financial warfare template that Israel has already established if they hope to defeat ISIS and the terror armies that will follow.
The European intelligence services will have to cut through red tape and muster their resources to bankrupt ISIS, intercept its ability to move money from country to country, and stop it from funding fighters and operations throughout the continent.
Rendering a group like ISIS insolvent will yield victorious battlefield results.
In 2014, during the fighting in Gaza, the Israeli Air Force incinerated over $10 million in Hamas cash that was earmarked to pay the salaries of terrorists on the front lines who hadn’t been paid in weeks. When the money evaporated inside the flash of a missile strike, Hamas had no choice but to seek an end to the conflict.
If European nations are truly serious about wanting to put an end to ISIS attacks on the continent they must accept that in the war on terror – primarily the financial war – there is no fair play, only results on a ledger.
Days before terrorist attacks in Spain killed 13 and injured 100 in August, a judge in Germany sentenced a Syrian hairdresser to two years in prison for defrauding ISIS by tricking the terrorist organization into transferring 180,000 euros to him under the pretense of carrying out attacks in Germany. German authorities shouldn’t have charged the man – they should have copied the scam on a much larger scale.
A smart and successful war on terror requires James Bonds and General Pattons, as well as one or two Bernie Madoffs – and their services are needed immediately.
This war is here and now. To weaken the terrorists who target innocent men, women and children for murder and mayhem, America and European nations must adapt and develop new and decisive strategies to make sure that the next attacks are much more difficult to carry out. The bankrupting of terrorists must be the tip of this strategic spear.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli activist and civil rights attorney. She is the president of Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law center based in Tel Aviv that has represented hundreds of terror victims in lawsuits around the world. She is the co-author of “Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters” to be published on November 7, 2017, by Hachette Books.