Israel foiled 17 suicide attacks so far this year, Shin Bet says
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Analysis

Israel foiled 17 suicide attacks so far this year, Shin Bet says

Security agency reports a steady rise in West Bank terrorism, even as Hamas's key overseas terror chief plans for the long term

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

The family of Malachy Rosenfeld mourn during his funeral in Kochav Hashachar in the West Bank on July 01, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The family of Malachy Rosenfeld mourn during his funeral in Kochav Hashachar in the West Bank on July 01, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Palestinian terrorism of 2015 looks very different from the kind that Israel suffered during the first years of the Second Intifada. The weapons are improvised, there are no “wanted men” whom Israel is seeking for orchestrating the attacks; indeed, there is often no organizational support. But the effort to perpetrate terror attacks against Israeli targets is intensifying.

According to the Shin Bet’s own statistics, Israeli security forces have prevented 17 suicide attacks so far this year — that’s 17 in just seven months. This figure does not include attacks prevented by the Palestinian Authority, which has dismantled several cells that planned such attacks.

Five of the 17 attacks thwarted by Israel were planned by members of Hamas, five were planned by other groups, and the remaining seven were not associated with any organization. In other words, terror cells are now frequently being established without affiliation to a Palestinian group, but rather on the basis of introductions between friends, fellow university students and/or connections on social networks. Such cells are exceptionally hard for the security services to penetrate.

This is supposedly a more “amateur” type of terrorism. But so far this year, too, Israel prevented eight kidnappings planned by these so-called amateurs — and, again, this figure does not include kidnappings prevented by the Palestinian Authority. Of those eight, four were planned by members of Hamas and the rest by Islamic Jihad and other groups.

In all, over the first seven months of 2015, Israel’s defense and security establishment prevented 111 attempted terror attacks, including shooting attacks and bombings along with the kidnappings and suicide attacks.

Danny Gonen, 25, from Lod was killed Friday, June 19, 2015 in a shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev by a Palestinian gunman. (Facebook)
Danny Gonen, 25, from Lod was killed Friday, June 19, 2015 in a shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev by a Palestinian gunman. (Facebook)

Hamas is the prime offender, the Shin Bet figures show, responsible for more than half of those attempts (62, to be precise, or 55 percent). But even Hamas is not using the same methods as it employed between 2000 and 2006 in the West Bank. Its members operate mostly on a local basis — Hamas activists who have known each other since childhood, are neighbors in a Palestinian city or come from the same village. One such cell is known to have operated in Beit Lakiya, not from from Modi’in, without any external help and with no funding from Gaza or abroad.

These cells often rely on improvisation for their choice of weaponry and their plans for using it. Surprisingly, the Kalashnikov is no longer in fashion; its place has been taken by weapons manufactured locally. These include the “Carlo,” named for the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, whose Palestinian version is produced in the West Bank and has been used by quite a few terrorists. A “Carlo” costs only about 700 Jordanian dinars (NIS 3,700; almost $1,000). A Kalashnikov or M-16 costs many times more.

The terrorists themselves are also different. In the West Bank, being a wanted terrorist is no longer “in.” Today’s terrorists have no desire for an on-the-run lifestyle; they want to commit the attack and get away with it — and to go back to their jobs, their regular lives.

In almost all the cases of thwarted attacks, the targets were in the territories, not Israel. None of the prevented suicide attacks was planned for inside the Green Line, apparently because of the risk and the complexity involved. West Bank Palestinian terrorists in 2015 find it far easier to engage in shooting attacks or plant roadside bombs in the territories, with settlers and soldiers as targets.

Palestinian supporters of the Hamas movement attend a rally prior to the student council elections at Birzeit University, on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian supporters of the Hamas movement attend a rally prior to the student council elections at Birzeit University, on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)

There are also groups that are better organized, via regional West Bank hierarchies. But such groups are less dangerous because they are more vulnerable to the intelligence efforts both of the Shin Bet and of the Palestinian Authority. They are reminiscent of “classic Hamas” terror hierarchies, which mobilized support via an array of social services, known as Dawa, from which they learned to recruit terrorists. They have an impressive presence, for instance, in Hamas’s student unions, notably including those at An-Najah University in Nablus and in Bir Zeit north of Ramallah. Hamas fares extraordinarily well in the student union elections at these universities because of its widespread social activity for the students.

There are also West Bank Hamas terrorist infrastructures that are being directed by a “West Bank Command Center” in the Gaza Strip. A group of terrorists who were released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal and expelled to the Gaza Strip have established, within the Hamas military wing there, a command structure to direct terror attacks in the West Bank. Each member of this group is responsible for a cell, usually based in the area where he used to live, and for overseeing recruitment.

This Gaza command center is led by a group of terrorists originally from Hebron, dominated by Abd a-Rahman Ghanimat. On occasion they transfer funds to their people in the West Bank, but their successes have thus far been fairly limited. Despite their functioning within the military wing in Gaza, there is a degree of social and even cultural separation. The members of the “West Bank Command Center” are not considered particularly valuable, being regarded as a little narrow-minded and pedantic.

Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, the foreign-based head of Hamas operations in the West Bank (YouTube screenshot)
Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, the foreign-based head of Hamas operations in the West Bank (YouTube screenshot)

Finally, there are Hamas cells in the West Bank that take orders from the leadership abroad. The best-known of the overseas terror chiefs is Saleh al-Arouri, alleged by Israel to have orchestrated the June 2014 abduction and killing of the three Israeli teenagers — the terror act that ultimately triggered last summer’s 50-day war. According to a report by Channel 10 News, he recently left Turkey and is now living in Doha, Qatar, alongside the political leadership of his organization.

Al-Arouri is considered “the military commander of the West Bank,” a capable, charismatic, suspicious, and shrewd operator, with excellent connections abroad and among the Palestinians. In the past, he used to speak to us Israeli journalists as a matter of routine.

Unlike the other terror groupings and their leaders, al-Arouri is focused in good part on the long term — setting up sleeper cells, smuggling high-quality weapons. Ahmed a-Nagar, who has spent time in Jordan and coordinated June’s murderous West Bank drive-by shooting of Malachi Rosenfeld, is one of several other Hamas exiles who work in parallel with him.

Al-Arouri prefers to keep a low profile on the whole, and not all attacks are coordinated with him. His primary goal is to rebuild the infrastructure of Hamas in the West Bank, which was heavily damaged over the past decade. If today’s Palestinian terrorism is marked by an absence of effective organizational support, Al-Arouri is at the forefront of efforts to change that.

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