Hitting Terrorists Where It Hurts Most

Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M. Katz
(Hachette Books, 304 pages, $27)

After signing the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat promised an end to their terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. In exchange, Arafat was granted a significant degree of autonomous rule in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, which would serve as the prototype for a future Palestinian Arab state living alongside Israel.

Yet what followed was years of Palestinian terrorist attacks despite the Oslo Accords, including such gruesome methods as shootings, stabbings against Israeli civilians, and suicide bombing attacks as the Sbarro Restaurant Massacre, in which 15 civilians were killed, among them 7 children and a pregnant woman. Over one thousand Israelis were murdered during the Second Intifada, while thousands more were injured.

Israel responded with military force, though it would not be enough to stop the ongoing terror. What needed to be done was to stop the flow of money that financed Palestinian terror networks. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M. Katz tell the story of how Meir Dagan, who was appointed head of Israel’s Mossad, created “Harpoon,” a task force that coordinated efforts to end the funding of terrorism. In doing so, the State of Israel taught the world that in order to effectively undermine terrorists, you had to hit it where it hurt. Their wallets.

In detailing the extraordinary life of Dagan and key figures who made up his team of spies and commandos, Harpoon reads like a fast-paced thriller novel. However, this does not take away from the book’s value as a serious work in the history of counter-terrorism.

Harpoon traces the extensive financial networks that keeps anti-Israel terrorism a lucrative business. Encompassing Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Palestinian expatriate communities in the United States, as well as a number of Islamic charities, this network is responsible for making sure that the families of dead terrorists are well-supported financially. Harpoon also shatters the long-held myth in intelligence circles that the suicide bomber is nothing more than “a poor-man’s cruise missile,” detailing the lengthy and expensive process of how the incendiary devices are manufactured and how a prospective terrorist is psychologically screened.

The authors challenge the preconceived notion that terrorists are poor and illiterate fanatics. Islamic terrorists are often found to be considerably wealthy and highly educated. One such is example is Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, a physics teacher from Mosul who became ISIS’s finance minister. There is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was founded in Gaza in 1981 by a pediatrician. Its current leader, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, earned his Ph.D. in banking and economics from the University of Durham. Shalah actually planned violent operations against Israelis, earmarking cash and making political decisions, as he marked school papers while working as a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Harpoon superbly outlines how Israel became the preeminent authority in fighting terrorism by attacking its sources of income. Through cloak and dagger methods as well as the use of “lawfare,” where law firms such as Darshan-Leitner’s Shurat HaDin sue banks, individuals and organizations on behalf of victims of terror, Israel has dealt a significant blow against the lifeblood of terrorism. In the case of Iraq and Syria, U.S policy is increasingly emulating Israeli methods when it comes to defeating ISIS.

Harpoon does not merely recount historical events but pulls the reader into the narrative. Indeed, most readers will no doubt find themselves developing a personal relationship with the figures who make up Dagan’s team. This book must be considered required reading for anyone considering a career in counter-terrorism — or for anyone wanting real insight into how our world works, and what can be done about it.

Bradley Martin is a Senior Fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and Deputy Editor for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

Sign Up to receive Our Latest Updates! Register