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Arab Israeli, Gazan worker spied on Iron Dome batteries for Hamas, Shin Bet says

According to agency, terror group recruited Israeli citizen and Palestinian who had a valid permit to enter Israel, to gather intel on IDF and prepare for attacks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Iron Dome anti-missile battery seen on June 15, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Iron Dome anti-missile battery seen on June 15, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli security forces arrested two men last month, an Arab Israeli and a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, who are suspected of spying on Israel on behalf of the Hamas terror group, the Shin Bet security service said Thursday.

The agency said the two gathered information about the Israeli military and its Iron Dome missile defense batteries. They were arrested on November 29, and indictments were filed against the Arab Israeli man in Beersheba’s Southern District Court and against the Palestinian suspect in a Central District Court in Lod on Thursday, prompting the Shin Bet to release information about the case.

The Palestinian suspect, Mammoud Ahmad, 33, had legally entered Israel multiple times with a valid permit. According to the Shin Bet, Ahmad was recruited by Hamas in 2019 and during his time in Israel that year gathered intelligence about Iron Dome batteries across the country and “covertly photographed Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Ashkelon central bus station.”

The indictment against Ahmad indicates a reluctance to spy for Hamas, with him repeatedly failing, apparently deliberately, to photograph the Iron Dome batteries that he was directed to find by the terror group. His Hamas handlers repeatedly scolded him and, in one case, barred him from leaving Gaza to work in Israel. Ultimately, Ahmad located one of the Iron Dome batteries he had been instructed to locate, near the central Israeli town of Gan Yavne, giving information about the site to his handlers.

In addition, Ahmad allegedly photographed a group of IDF soldiers at the Ashkelon bus station at the direction of his handlers.

“In these acts, the defendant became an active member of the terror group and eventually knowingly provided information to the enemy that he knew would be of value to the enemy and with which the defendant intended to harm national security,” prosecutors wrote in the charge sheet.

Ahmad was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, giving information to the enemy, and espionage.

The Israeli suspect, Hasin Biari, a resident of Jaffa, is believed to have been recruited by Hamas over the past year while visiting Gaza, the Shin Bet said. According to the charge sheet against him, Biari was born in the Gaza Strip and his wife still lives there.

In April 2021, Biari traveled to the Strip to visit his family there and it was then that he made contact with a Hamas operative, who recruited him into the organization’s ranks, according to the indictment.

“He was able to carry out intelligence-gathering missions about military bases, IDF soldiers and Iron Dome batteries across the country. In addition, Biari was asked by Hamas to incite Israel’s Arab population against the country, to acquire weapons and to carry out terror attacks in Israeli territory,” the security service said.

According to the charge sheet, Biari was specifically tasked with photographing an Iron Dome battery located near the central Israeli community of Nirit, visiting the area twice after he failed to find the battery the first time.

Biari was indicted on three charges: contacting a foreign agent, giving information to the enemy and disclosing the decision to commit treason.

According to the Shin Bet, the two men were directed by Hamas operative Muhammad Halawa.

Hasan Biari, left, an Arab Israeli man suspected of spying on the Israeli military for the Hamas terror group who was arrested on November 29, 2021, and his alleged handler, Muhammad Halawa. (Shin Bet)

The indictment comes amid an ongoing debate in Israel about allowing large numbers of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Israel to work, a move that the IDF has historically supported as a stabilizing measure by boosting the Gazan economy, and the Shin Bet has generally opposed, fearing that it would be abused by Hamas to carry out and coordinate attacks against Israel and Israelis.

Indeed, in its statement about Biari and Ahmad, the Shin Bet noted this concern.

“This investigation joins previous investigations from the past two years against [Hamas’s] intelligence infrastructure, and again reveals the fact that Hamas takes advantage of the border crossings to advance terrorist activities in Israel and causes people to risk their families in Israel and in the Gaza Strip.

“This announcement demonstrates how Hamas takes advantage of merchant permits for terrorist activities,” the service said. (For largely bureaucratic reasons, work permits for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are referred to as merchant permits, despite the fact that many of those who hold them work as laborers, often in construction.)

In October, Jerusalem expanded the work permit program to allow up to 10,000 workers from the Gaza Strip into Israel, as part of ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.

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