Before becoming director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, Jonathan Schanzer spent about two years as a counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
In that capacity, as he told an audience of about 20 at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center on Sunday morning, he helped the department freeze assets, including bank accounts, held by organizations funding Islamist terrorist groups.
He said that since 2001, the U.S. Treasury has frozen about $300 million in such assets. But that impressive-sounding figure is “a drop in the bucket,” he said.
The U.S. public needs to become more aware of who is funding Islamist terrorist activities and groups, from states to private donors, Schanzer said. “My feeling is that when the U.S. public gets angry enough,” the government will take more effective action, he said.
With the goal of increasing such awareness, he spoke on the topic, “The Financing of Terrorism: An Insider’s View,” at an event sponsored by the Wisconsin chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
At the “bottom of the pyramid” of terrorism sponsors are four states, according to Schanzer. The primary of these is Iran.
It not only provides weapons and funding to the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon and the Hamas organization in Gaza and the West Bank, but even was “responsible for the Lebanon war” Israel fought in the summer of 2006, Schanzer said.
The next most important sponsor is Syria. It is “a poor country” that can’t provide much funding or weaponry, but it is “a major conduit” for such resources and “an enabler” for Hezbollah and Hamas, Schanzer said.
‘Layers of lawyers’
The third most important sponsor is Saudi Arabia. Even though this country is not on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism supporting countries, it “continues to sponsor terror in ways of which we can’t keep track,” Schanzer said.
Among other things, it finances “85 percent of all mosques in the world,” Schanzer said, plus many madrassas (centers for Muslim religious education). It also has been trying to buy professorships and programs in U.S. universities.
But the fourth sponsor, he said, is the U.S., whose foreign policies give “a free pass” to countries like Saudi Arabia, and whose domestic laws and legal procedures allow groups and individuals supporting terrorist groups to raise and transfer funds often with impunity.
Schanzer said that he frequently felt frustrated during his Treasury Dept. work by the ease with which terrorism fundraisers could operate and how difficult it was to shut them down.
He said some such people would set up a business, say buy an apartment building or a factory, and run it “like a normal organization.” They would operate for a time, funnel profits to terror groups, come to the attention of the Treasury Dept., who had to “go through layers of lawyers” that would delay reactions.
The perpetrators would close the “business” before Treasury officials could take effective action, then repeat the process somewhere else, Schanzer said.
Even when Treasury does close such an operation down, as in a case Schanzer said he assisted in Missouri, the individuals behind the operation “still walk, go to another state and do it over.”
U.S. political pundits on the left (Counterpunch Web site) and right (columnist Pat Buchanan) have been alleging that the Bush administration is planning a military attack, either by invasion or a massive air strike against Iran before President Bush leaves office.
Some also assert that Israel will attack Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
When asked whether he believes a U.S. strike is likely, Schanzer said, “I would take the Bush administration at its word” that it has no such plans. “I don’t see it happening” because U.S. forces “are spread thin” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both he and representatives of the RJC emphasized that neither of their organizations advocates war or a military attack on Iran.
The Jewish Policy Center, according to its Web site, “provides scholarly perspective on foreign and domestic policies that impact the Jewish community in the United States, and the broader American public.” It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.