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By Doris Strub Epstein

She has been called a wonder-woman, for her pioneering work in suing terrorist supporters and governments, winning multi- million dollar suits against them in US courts. Through her organization, the Shurat Hadin -Israel Law Centre, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner’s goal is to bankrupt terrorism by stopping the flow of money which funds it, through massive civil suits and other legal actions and by defending the victims of terror in court.

Her book, Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters, co -authored with Samuel Katz has just been published. It tells the until- now secret, detailed account of Israel’s powerful task force, code named Harpoon, and its global actions to destroy the financing of terrorism. Every Western country today employs their tactics. The stunning scope and imagination of their operations over the last 20 years, makes it a thrilling and engrossing read. 

In 2002, Nitsana got a call from Meir Dagan, the legendary head of Mossad. He was developing a covert unit to attack terrorism in a new way – through the money that fueled their activities. It was a revolutionary change and would prove to be a game-changer.

The traditional approach of Israeli counterterrorist operations was military action – gather the evidence and target the command structure – the bomb builders, the planners, the attackers. 

Dagan was frustrated by Israel’s conventional approach to warfare. They were unable to stop the plethora of bus bombings, drive- by shootings and suicide attacks that were afflicting the country. He wanted to change the paradigm and go after the source of terrorist power – money; the complicated global, underground network of “blood money” that involved banks and charities, drug cartels and other criminal sources. He assembled an elite team of specialists from Israel Intelligence, the IDF, Shin Bet, the police and even Israel’s IRS. The name of the group was Harpoon.

“He believed money was oxygen for terrorists,” Nitsana said in a phone interview. Dagan wanted her to work with him to attack terror funding. “We had different targets,” she explained. “He headed the military arm and we the civil, suing on behalf of the victims.”

Harpoon searched and found banking records, laundered money, created financial schemes that bankrupted investors, destroyed computer systems, attacked banks and bankers and assassinated financiers in foreign countries. After 9/11, Dagan forged a new closeness between the CIA and Mossad and they worked closely together especially with drug trafficking.

Nitsana pioneered the use by private lawyers, of American counterterrorism suits against terrorist groups and the countries and financial institutions that gave them money. “Blocking their flow of money blocks terrorist action,” she said. “We are also helping Israel against its enemies, like BDS and law fare, war crime complaints against the IDF through the legal system.”

Dagan’s vision, initiated by him in l996, met with extreme resistance. “…members of the military and espionage communities believed that the emphasis on finances rather than targets was a waste of limited resources and precious time. ” But Prime Minister Sharon fully supported him and urged him to go after Arafat and “bankrupt him”. Arafat had $1 to $3 billions in accounts dispersed throughout the world.

In 2006, the second Lebanon war, Dagan urged Israel to bomb the Beirut banks that were receptacles for Hezbollah’s money. “Once the banks were obliterated, Hezbollah ran short on money and agreed to a ceasefire.”

 According to the book, the fighting in Gaza in 2014 was ended by “incinerating” the Hamas finance minister’s millions of dollars in cash for salaries he was delivering to suicide terrorists.

“When Dagan retired in 2011 many of the agents retired too. We thought it was important to expose the heroic things Meir did and how Israel was the first to recognize there must be a new way to fight terrorism,” Nitsana said.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner will be speaking at the BAYT Synagogue, Thursday, November 23d at 8 pm. She will have copies of Harpoon with her for book signing. Admission is free. Information/registration: [email protected]; 1 855 303 5544

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