The head of the Shin Bet security service on Sunday told lawmakers the situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank is especially precarious after US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month.
Speaking to the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he predicted that it would be a “a highly unstable period for the next six months at least.”
Nadav Argaman, presenting his annual report to the committee, said his security service thwarted hundreds of “significant” terror attacks in the past year and warned that the “relative quiet” in the West Bank and Gaza should not mislead people into thinking that all is well in the region.
In the past year, the security service foiled approximately 400 serious terror attacks, he said, including 13 suicide bombings and eight kidnapping attempts.
Most recently, the Shin Bet arrested a group of three Palestinian men suspected of planning a kidnapping that they allegedly intended to carry out during last week’s Hannukah holiday.
Argaman told the committee this represented an increase in the number of terror attacks prevented in the past year by the security service, but the figures he presented did not back up that claim.
In March, when he presented his review of 2016, Argaman told the committee that the Shin Bet had also foiled some 400 terror attacks that year, including 16 kidnapping attempts and 16 suicide bombings.
Moving from organized terror to so-called “lone wolf” attacks, in which a terrorist acts independently with simple weapons like a knife or a car, Argaman credited the security service with dramatically improving its abilities to prevent them.
The Shin Bet chief said his security service had halved the number of successful “lone wolf” attacks. In 2016, there were 108 such attacks, while so far in 2017 there have been 54, he said.
The security chief said, in total, Israel foiled 1,100 “lone wolf” attacks in 2017.
The Shin Bet chief also discussed the ongoing, strained reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas terrorist group as a possible source of friction in Palestinian society.
“The Palestinian arena in the past year is highly unstable in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, especially now following Trump’s declaration,” he said.
“The relative quiet we’re experiencing is a misleading quiet,” Argaman said. “Hamas is trying with all its strength to carry out attacks in the West Bank and to disturb the stability of the Palestinian Authority.”
He made no predictions regarding how the reconciliation efforts will turn out, saying only “time will tell.”
In a December 6 address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Palestinian groups in response called for a new intifada against Israel and urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and each Friday since Trump’s declaration has seen thousands of Palestinians take to the streets to clash with Israeli troops, both in cities in the West Bank and along the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of rioters have been injured and several have been killed.
The past few weeks have also seen a significant increase in the number of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, approximately two dozen in two weeks, though military officials are loath to credit that solely to Trump’s declaration, pointing as well to increased Israeli efforts to demolish terrorist groups’ tunnels and internal Palestinian disputes.