haniyeh bodyguards 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
It is an open secret that Hamas has been smuggling millions of dollars into Gaza through the Rafah crossing ever since the international community cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority following Hamas's rise to power earlier this year.
Yet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision on Thursday to close the Rafah crossing to keep PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from bringing $35 million into Gaza was the first time Israel has actively intervened to stop the money flow. But if the money smuggling has been going on since the spring, why did Israel decide to take action only now?
According to government sources, it was simply a case of having accurate intelligence information about what Haniyeh had in his suitcases.
The sources said that had Israel known back in July that PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar intended to smuggle $20m. into Gaza, they would have taken similar action.
But there seems to be more at play than just good intelligence. Diplomatic sources said there was something so audacious in Haniyeh going to Iran, pledging jihad forever and coming back with suitcases full of cash, that Israel simply could not turn a blind eye. Especially since the Gaza cease-fire agreed upon a few weeks ago called for an end to the smuggling, both of arms and cash.
And while the international community would be less than tolerant were Israel to take military action in Gaza against rocket fire on Sderot, there would be more understanding in trying to prevent an influx of cash to bolster Hamas.
Furthermore, it was clear that the money originated in Iran, and the security establishment is becoming increasingly concerned about the growing connection between Hamas and Iran.
Security officials told the cabinet on Sunday that despite the international ban on bank transfers, the money has continued flowing into Gaza. They said that has led to a situation where Hamas's popularity and strength had not declined since the ban went into effect, but the organization was instead feeling a resurgence of confidence.
A confident Hamas is not only bad for Israel, but also for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters, which indicates that Israel is not the only player in the area that wants to see the money flow stopped.
Stopping the flow will be extremely difficult. Although it may be more difficult to walk the money through the Rafah crossing in a suitcase, it can still be smuggled through the tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor, since a tunnel that can fit arms and ammunition, can also fit suitcases of cash.
But by keeping Haniyeh from bringing the money in on Thursday, Israel sent a message that the unhindered flow of cash from Iran into Gaza was coming to an end. Money will still likely make its way through, but from now on it will probably be more difficult - and not only because Israel wants it so, but because Abbas and those loyal to him want it that way as well.