Israeli Bank Raid Hits Terrorists Pocket
Israel’s first dip into Palestinian terrorist bank accounts Wednesday, February 25, raised a storm in international banking circles greater than if Israeli troops had pushed into Bethlehem to avenge two recent Jerusalem bus blasts in which 18 Israelis and a foreign worker died.
Washington slapped the Sharon government’s wrist, claiming its action in downtown Ramallah could destabilize the Palestinian banking system and should have been coordinated with Palestinian financial authorities, namely the pro-US finance minister Salim Fayad.
Israel responded that six months of painstaking intelligence-gathering had gone into pinpointing more that 400 accounts held by Palestinian terrorist groups and funded mostly by Syria, Iran and the Hizballah. Advance notice would have jeopardized the operation.
Some of the accounts belonged to the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem bus blasts as well as for the shooting ambush Thursday, February 26, at the Erez checkpoint from the Gaza Strip to Israel, killing an Israeli military reservist, wounding two, and halting the passage of Palestinian workers to their jobs in Israel.
Israeli officials cited the US presidential directive calling for a worldwide clampdown on terrorist financing which has so far netted no more than $130 million. Palestinian banks, they said, had been hijacked to finance Palestinian terrorist groups.
debkafile‘s Washington sources reveal the US was under heavy pressure to have Israel’s “armed robbers” pulled out of the banks – not only from Fayed, but from international banking heavyweight Palestinian-born Abdul Majid Shuman, head of the Arab Bank of Amman, one of the biggest in the Middle East, whose two Ramallah branches were stormed Wednesday together with the Cairo Amman Bank. Shuman called every head of government and international bank he could find, including the World Bank and Jordan’s King Abdullah II who is on a visit in Malaysia, to insist that they intercede with the Bush administration to stop the Israeli operation. He warned the king that the Jordan-based institution’s business reputation would suffer if Israeli troops could march in at will and examine confidential accounts.
Nonetheless, for 13 hours, no one interrupted Israeli police computer experts as they logged onto banking networks and examined accounts, or the officers stuffing up to $8 million into large holdalls in amounts corresponding to the targeted accounts.
Armed troops secured the operation outside. More than 40 Palestinians were injured when tear gas was used to break up stone-throwing mobs.
Ramallah, seat of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, was already tense, under assault from internal strife in the ruling Fatah. debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report Mohammed Dahlan, interior minister in Mahmoud Abbas’s short-lived government, has mounted a telling revolt against Arafat’s leadership. Monday,February 23, 11 leaders of Fatah-North Gaza Strip resigned in a body. Threats to quit are coming from branch leaders in Gaza City, central and southern Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank centers of Nablus and its surrounding villages, Ramallah’s environs and Arab Jerusalem.
The uprising forced Arafat to call the first Fatah Central Council meeting in 13 years. The session took place Wednesday night in Ramallah while Israeli police were going through the city’s banks. It broke down after all-night debates failed to settle the crisis. Council members demanded immediate elections for a clean sweep of corrupt veterans. Arafat agreed but refused to set a date. He understands that electing young activists to Fatah’s ruling institutions will wipe out his majority. Dahlan’s “parliamentary revolt,” if pulled off, would therefore be tantamount to a putsch.
After the bank operation was over, defense minister Shaul Mofaz announced the impounded funds would be spent on benefits for ordinary Palestinians. The hated roadblocks could not be removed as long terrorists stalked the borders, but facilities would be improved, as would also health services, school transport and food.
This will hardly mollify the Jordanian-Palestinian tycoon Shuman who is smarting after the second Israeli assault on his property. Exactly one year ago, Israel troops impounded $10,000 of Hamas funds from a financial institution he owns in the Jerusalem village of al Azariya.
Israel’s bank raids will not halt the transfer of funds to terrorist groups. They will only divert a larger flow outside the banking system that will be harder to stem. Still, a large chunk of cash is now missing from their warchest