The head of the Shin Bet security service warned lawmakers on Monday that terror groups may try to carry out attacks during the Passover holiday next month.
“We are just before the Passover holiday, and there is no doubt that terrorist infrastructures, mostly the established one, and specifically Hamas, will try to agitate the area and carry out attacks,” Nadav Argaman told the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“Our goal, of course, is to ensure quiet holidays for every citizen of the State of Israel,” he added.
Israel’s security forces regularly warn that holidays serve as opportunities for terrorist groups to conduct attacks. The Israel Defense Forces raised such concerns ahead of Passover last year as well.
Jewish pilgrims often visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City during the holiday, often prompting Palestinian claims that settlers are “storming” the holy site, which can incite potential attackers. During interrogations, Palestinian terrorists have cited the situation on the Temple Mount as a driving force behind their attacks.
During holidays, especially weeklong festivals like Passover, families are more inclined to travel and hike, and there is thus an increased risk of attacks.
Therefore, for most major Jewish holidays, the IDF shuts down the crossings between the West Bank and Israel.
Argaman, who took over the internal security service in May 2016, told the panel of his organization’s activities over the past year, in the midst of “highly significant geostrategic changes” in the region resulting from both the US-Russian global power struggle and the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015.
The past year, he said, saw the continuation of a “wave of terror” that began in the fall of 2015 but has waned in recent months.
However, Argaman said, that calm, and security forces’ successes thus far, are deceptive.
“I have to say that the quiet we have been experiencing since 2016 — this comparative quiet — is a misleading quiet, it deceives and intoxicates, and this is for one simple reason: The terrorist infrastructures of Hamas and the global jihad are working every day to carry out terror attacks within the State of Israel,” he said.
The Shin Bet chief credited “technological, intelligence and operational” developments with bringing down the number of attacks.
“[In 2016,] we stopped 400 potential assailants before they could carry out attacks,” he said.
“And yet, I must say that in the past year, unfortunately, 16 citizens and one foreign national died as a result of terror attacks,” Argaman added.
In total, 40 Israelis, two Americans, a Palestinian and an Eritrean national have been killed in the spate of stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks that began a year and a half ago.
According to AFP figures, some 250 Palestinians, a Jordanian and a Sudanese migrant have also been killed, most of them in the course of carrying out attacks, Israel says, and many of the others in clashes with troops in the West Bank and at the Gaza border, as well as in Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks.
The spate of Palestinian attacks that began in October 2015 was dubbed the “lone wolf” intifada, as many of the attacks were carried out by individuals who were not connected to any terror group.
The attacks were at first attributed to tensions over Palestinian fears that Israel was seeking to change the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a charge Israel has repeatedly and vehemently denied. Palestinian leaders have argued that the primary cause for attacks during this period was despair caused by Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.
The Hamas terror group, which controls the Gaza Strip, continues to refer to each attack as part of a “Jerusalem Intifada.”