Israel sent suitcases of cash into Gaza for years despite concerns about funding Hamas

israel sent suitcases of cash into gaza for years despite concerns about funding hamas

The plan was signed off by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government – AFP

Israeli officials sent suitcases filled with Qatari-provided cash to Gaza for years, despite concerns the money was being used to fund Hamas’s military wing, it has emerged.

The plan, signed off by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, was said to be an attempt to “buy quiet” in the enclave but critics say it ended up supporting the group’s murderous assault on Israel two months ago.

Tens of millions of dollars intended for day-to-day administration of the territory were handed out each month by a Qatari diplomat who would meet Israeli security officials at the Jordan border before being driven into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom border crossing, The New York Times reported.

israel sent suitcases of cash into gaza for years despite concerns about funding hamas

Head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh (L) receives Chairman of the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza Ambassador Mohammed Al-Emadi (C) at his residence in Gaza City in 2019 – Anadolu

Mohammed al-Emadi would initially bring about $15 million to distribute, with $100 bills handed out to a list of families approved by the Israeli government, the newspaper cited multiple current and former Israeli officials as saying.

That sum reportedly doubled by 2021.

The report comes at a sensitive time for Mr Netanyahu, who is facing mounting questions over how he dealt with Hamas prior to its October 7 attacks on Israel.

Claims are ridiculous, says Netanyahu

He has dismissed claims he helped prop up the terror group as “ridiculous”.

Mr Netanyahu’s approval of the payments, which added up to billions of dollars in total, was a political gamble driven by the belief that a steady flow of cash would ensure peace in Gaza after a 2014 war in the enclave, the officials said.

His view was that a strong Hamas, buttressed by the money, would act as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and lessen pressure on him to negotiate over the creation of a Palestinian state.

israel sent suitcases of cash into gaza for years despite concerns about funding hamas

The Kerem Shalom commercial crossing into Gaza – Abed Rahim Khatib / Avalon

The money was intended to keep the local government running, pay salaries to public servants and teachers and buy fuel to keep a power plant functioning while Israel was publicly pursuing a policy of blockading Gaza.

But Israel’s allies had long assessed that Hamas was skimming off funds from the cash disbursements, with some of the funds diverted to the group’s military wings, one senior Western diplomat said.

Risking Israel’s safety with payments 

Israel’s Mossad spy agency also eventually came to conclude that Qatar was using funding channels to secretly finance Hamas’s military arm, the New York Times reported.

Opponents of the strategy within Mr Netanyahu’s government warned the longtime Israeli leader was risking his country’s safety with the payments, which while ostensibly a secret, have been widely known and discussed in Israel for years.

Avigdor Lieberman, the former defence minister who resigned in November 2018 over the issue, told The New York Times the plan was a ploy by the prime minister to stay “in power at any cost” and had directly led to the October 7 attacks.

Naftali Bennett, Mr Lieberman’s successor, was also critical of the payments, calling them “protection money” before later continuing the policy while serving as prime minister for a year from June 2021 onwards.

Yossi Cohen, who managed the Qatari file for many years as the chief of Mossad, publicly opposed the strategy after retiring the same month.

“We had hoped that Qatari involvement and Qatari money would lead to a settlement with Hamas,” Mr Cohen said in June 2021. “But things got a little out of control.”

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