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With no funding, you can’t fight

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As you know, I don’t like entering the political sphere too much as it’s way too controversial, but I’ve just got around to watching the BBC Panorama programme aired on February 19 about Hamas’s secret financial empire. It’s fascinating and, unfortunately, only available on the BBC iPlayer, as far as I know. It’s well worth watching to understand more about the mechanics of conflict and war.

Presented by John Ware, one of the BBC’s veteran journalists, we are walked through the issues in the territory which make far more sense than just seeing bombings and civilian deaths. We know there is a human catastrophe taking place over there, and the question the programme raises is: could it have been avoided by tackling Hamas’s bank accounts?

It makes the war make more sense and could equally apply to other conflicts.

The core argument is that governments should attack the source of funding rather than the source of weapons. For example, John states that “some within Israeli intelligence believe this war, with its terrible human cost, could have been avoided. They say an opportunity was missed some years ago to throttle the Hamas military machine by going after its financial empire.”

He then interviews the former Head of Economic Warfare for Mossad, Udi Levy, who led the Israeli Intelligence force.

“We came many times and said to the Prime Minister (Netahanyu), ‘we believe that if you have a decision that we have to crush Hamas, I think that we have the tools by using only the financial tools ... we never got any answer to our proposal. Never.”

Udi Levy, former Head of Economic Warfare for Mossad

OK, so maybe Udi has an axe to grind but, because the Prime Minister didn’t listen or didn’t want to listen, there was a major incident on October 7th, 2023. Killing over 1,000 Israeli’s, who were enjoying a music festival, as well as alleged rapes and attacks on women in particular, it was a horrific day and sparked the major retaliation we have seen ever since by Israeli forces.

Half of Gaza’s building have been damaged or destroyed and, by the end of February 2024, just a few months later, 29,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the Hamas run Ministry of Health, mainly women and children.

So why did Hamas attack the music festival in the first place, knowing that such retaliation would be likely?

Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by the UK and some other countries*, represents the governmental structure of Palestine and the leaders of the fight against Israel. Why fight? Well, according to Hamas, it’s for the 56 years of occupation, 17 years of a suffocating blockade, and endless wars that are carried out with impunity during that period.

What is interesting, and this is what programme explores in more depth, is how Hamas can afford its weapons and war. It seems to be fuelled by various factors including:

  • Funds for humanitarian aid sent to Gaza that was meant to be spent on supporting citizens but was instead spent on funding other activities;
  • 30% tax on all goods and trade in and out of Gaza, which is a healthy source of income; and
  • tunnels.

Estimates vary from 100 to 500 kilometres of tunnels underneath the streets of the West Bank, with huge stores of weaponry and troops for the war against Israel. Behind these stores of destruction is money.

The BBC got access to documents that show at least a half a billion dollars belonging to Hamas is invested mainly in property overseas. Mr. Levy claims that it’s not millions … it’s billions or even multibillions.

How can that be?

Well, the cash is taken from the West Bank to Istanbul and then spread across Saudi, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, the Gulf and other countries. It’s all totally legit according to the Turkish financial authorities. Specifically Iran, Qatar and other nations are identified as financially supporting Hamas and, due to the current conflict, are likely to increase their support.

“Frankly, the financial leadership could walk out of the job that they do for a terrorist organisation into a FTSE 100 company leadership position with no trouble at all. Their financial skills are first amongst equals.”

Tom Keatinge, Centre for Financial Crime Studies, RUSI

Such a sad state of affairs but, going back to the central point, it’s all about money to fund war rather than the other way around and, as John Ware concludes the programme: “with neither side offering a vision for a sustainable future, a new and even darker age beckons”.

Such a shame.

More coverage here, if interested.

 

* Hamas projects itself as a resistance movement and Israel as a terrorist state

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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