For the first time in 30 years, not a single Israeli was killed by terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip in 2016, the head of the Shin Bet security service said Monday, noting that this was due largely to Israeli vigilance and not to a lack of desire by Palestinian terror groups.
But even as Hamas and other groups were kept relatively quiet in Gaza, they were transferring much of their efforts to the West Bank, the Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as part of a yearly review.
Hamas has “significantly increased its efforts to advance terror attacks in the West Bank and Israel,” Argaman said, referring specifically to mass-casualty attacks.
“Hamas has found itself in strategic distress and is interested in undermining the security situation in the West Bank through bombings,” he said.
To thwart those attempts, Israel has stepped up its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting 1,035 suspected members. Some 114 terror cells were also broken up in 2016, as opposed to 70 the year before — a 62 percent increase, Argaman said.
Some 184 shooting attacks, 16 kidnapping attempts and 16 suicide bombings were thwarted by the Shin Bet in 2016, as were 84 other assorted attacks, mostly stabbings and car-rammings, he said. These figures did not include attacks prevented by Israel’s other security services, like the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police.
Those efforts did not result in a dramatic decrease in the number of Israelis killed and injured by terror attacks during the same period.
In 2016, 16 Israeli citizens and one foreign national were killed in terror attacks, and 149 civilians were injured. This was a relatively minor decrease from the year before, in which 20 people were killed and another 188 were wounded in attacks.
However, for the first time in 30 years, not a single Israeli was killed by terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip in 2016, Argaman said. Though one Shin Bet agent was killed in a friendly-fire incident on March 8, 2016.
In Gaza, the situation has remained calm following the 2014 war, with just less than two rockets, on average, fired from the Strip each month — or 23 in total — during 2016.
Most of them were fired by salafist groups, hoping to stir up trouble for Hamas, as they know that the IDF will punish it, rather than them, in response to rocket attacks.
In a public statement before Argaman’s full briefing to the committee, the Shin Bet chief warned that Hamas will likely try to carry out attacks during the Passover holiday next month, in an attempt to instigate large-scale clashes between Palestinians and Israelis.
During the closed-doors discussion, Argaman provided the committee members with additional information on the potential for violence from the West Bank, Gaza and within Israel proper, according to a statement released by the committee after the meeting.
The Palestinian Authority is in a holding pattern, waiting to understand the Middle East policies of US President Donald Trump, according to the Shin Bet chief.
In the West Bank, young Palestinians still see violent attacks as “legitimate means of effecting change in the arena,” Argaman said, despite the fact that most Palestinians understand that there is a “cost” exacted on the population for terror attacks.
Nitzan Nuriel, a former IDF general who once served as deputy commander of the Gaza Division, commented on Monday that terrorist groups in the Strip speak “the language of rockets.”
“If you want to say something, you launch rockets. If you want to shout, you launch more rockets,” Nuriel told reporters during a phone briefing hosted by the Israel Project.
Though Hamas has not itself been firing rockets at Israel since the latest Gaza war, it has not been sitting idly by.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, the terrorist group has been rearming in preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state, Argaman told the Knesset committee.
The Shin Bet chief warned that a breakdown in the humanitarian situation in Gaza could help push Hamas and Israel to war.