Shin Bet, IDF thwart Islamic Jihad attack on navy boats off Gaza coast

Security forces say plan to fire a missile at ship, kidnap the survivors, was part of revenge campaign for tunnel destroyed last year

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Security forces arrested a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group off the Gaza coast suspected of planning to sink an Israeli naval patrol boat and kidnap any survivors last month, Israel revealed on Wednesday.

The plan was to use three boats to lure in a navy ship, fire a missile at it and then seize the wounded and slain soldiers, according to a joint statement by the Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces.

This plot was foiled on the night of March 12, when the navy’s 916th Patrol Squadron stopped a Palestinian boat that had left the designated Gaza fishing zone.

A video of the nighttime arrest shows well-armed naval special forces boarding the fishing boat and calling for the 10 people on board to put their hands up and get down. The boat was impounded in the Ashdod port.

Amin Saadi Muhammad Jumma’a, a suspected member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group arrested by Israel in March. (Shin Bet)

The crew was brought into Israeli custody for questioning, including Amin Saadi Muhammad Jumma’a, 24, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad who told interrogators that he had received instructions from his commanders to prepare to carry out the attack on Israeli Navy ships, according to the Shin Bet and IDF.

The planned attack was meant to be a continuation of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s vendetta against the IDF for the demolition of the group’s tunnel on October 30, in which several of its members were killed.

Two of the others on board are also suspected of having been part of the plot. The other seven were released after their interrogation, the Shin Bet said.

Jumma’a, a resident of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, told interrogators that the plan was for one boat to act as a diversion by leaving the fishing zone so that a navy ship would approach it.

“A second boat would attack the ship, firing a Kornet (anti-tank) missile at it, with the intention of causing injury and death to the soldiers on board,” the statement said

A third boat would then arrive on the scene and take the wounded soldiers hostage and steal the bodies of those killed, the security forces said.

“In order to prepare for the attack, Jumma’a conducted a number of observation missions on navy ships and collected intelligence about the location of the navy ships, the number of soldiers on them and the types of weaponry on board,” the statement said.

An Israeli Navy Dvora-class patrol boat during an exercise on March 2, 2015. (Matan Portnoy/Israel Defense Forces/Flickr)

Jumma’a was indicted in a Beersheba court on Wednesday on a litany of charges, including planning to conduct a terror attack, acquiring weapons and belonging to a terrorist organization.

According to the charge sheet, Jumma’a joined the Islamic Jihad in 2016. A year later, he agreed to conduct the attack on the navy in exchange for $5,000.

In addition, he was charged with transporting 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of explosives on a fishing boat from Egypt to the Gaza Strip on behalf of the Hamas terrorist organization sometime in either 2012 or 2013, and of transporting 150 packages of fiberglass from Egypt to Gaza for Hamas for the purposes of manufacturing weapons in 2014 or 2015.

He was also accused of smuggling four AK-47 assault rifles and a pistol from Egypt to Gaza through an underground tunnel for Hamas in 2015.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed the joint IDF-Shin Bet operation. “The complexities of the Gaza border are varied and complicated. [But] the nation of Israel has someone it can count on,” Liberman wrote on Twitter.

Netanyahu said the plot showed “true intentions of the terror groups in Gaza, who are trying to camouflage their murderous plans by organizing provocations along the security fence.”

Palestinians march past a tent city toward the border with Israel east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

On Friday, over 30,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border, in what Israel describes as a riot orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest.

There were discrepancies in Palestinian reports on the Gaza death toll from Friday. While Hamas claimed Monday that 18 had died, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority had the number at 16. Israel has no official death toll figures.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said on Saturday that all those killed were engaged in violence. Manelis said on Friday evening that the army had faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence.

The Shin Bet and IDF accused the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad of taking advantage of the “civilian comforts” granted by Israel to the residents of Gaza, specifically fishing rights, in order to “advance terror attacks.”

In addition to the planned naval attack, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has already carried out at least two other acts of revenge on Israel for destroying its tunnel on October 30.

One month later, the group fired a barrage of mortar shells at an army position northeast of the Gaza Strip, causing damage but no injury. In December, the group also fired mortar shells at southern Israel in order to disrupt an event honoring an IDF soldier who was killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose remains are currently being held by the Hamas terrorist group.

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