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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Israel Battles Palestinian Terrorism

On Jan. 8, Fadi al-Qunbar, a 28-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, plowed a large truck into a group of Israeli soldiers visiting a tourist site—killing four and injuring at least 17. This brutal attack is the latest incident in a wave of Palestinian terrorism that began in October 2015. Since then, Palestinian attacks on Israelis have resulted in 46 deaths, including seven U.S. citizens, and more than 600 injuries.

Nation-wide, Israel’s improved counterterrorism efforts have reduced the number of monthly terrorist attacks from a zenith of 55 down to a handful in December 2016. Israeli security forces are focused on remaining one step ahead of this complex threat by vigilantly identifying and disrupting terrorist rings, shuttering weapons production centers in the West Bank, thwarting smuggling attempts into Gaza, and arresting Palestinians trying to join the Islamic State.

Disrupting Terrorist Cells

Israel strives to disrupt Palestinian terrorist cells before their members are able to carry out attacks. For example, in December 2016, Israeli security officials announced on Dec. 8 the dismantling of a seven-man terrorist cell in Tzurif and Hebron, both in the West Bank, which was planning shootings and kidnappings. On Dec. 11, Israeli security forces arrested 15 Palestinians in the West Bank who were suspected of involvement in terrorism and violent demonstrations against Israelis. Just two days earlier, the Shin Bet announced that it had arrested the members of an eight-person terrorist cell planning to carry out a shooting attack against an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) base in Jerusalem. And the Shin Bet disclosed on Dec. 22 that it had busted a 20-member Hamas cell that was planning suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem, Haifa and other major Israeli cities.

Shuttering Weapons Production

Israel began targeting Palestinian weapons-production facilities after the wave of terrorism—which had initially consisted of stabbing attacks—shifted to include an increased number of shootings. Israel’s success in shutting down weapons production centers and confiscating arms and munitions has diminished Palestinian terrorists’ ability to carry out firearms attacks against Israelis.

Since October 2015, Israel has arrested more than 140 arms manufacturers and weapons dealers, shut down approximately 50 weapons production machines and 30 factories, and confiscated more than 420 weapons. On Aug. 22, Israeli security forces shut down six illegal weapons manufacturing facilities in Bethlehem and Hebron, seizing 54 weapons and gun parts. Most recently, on Dec. 19, IDF forces confiscated 15 lathes (machines that shape metal), dozens of rifles, gun parts and large quantities of ammunition from a workshop in a residential building in Hebron. 

Thwarting Smuggling Attempts

Israel has prevented scores of potential attacks by thwarting smuggling attempts into the Gaza Strip. Since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists have carried out an unrelenting campaign of smuggling weapons, dual-use, and other illicit materials into the coastal enclave, to include pipes, rocket fuel, and fiberglass for creating rockets; explosive material; concrete and other materials necessary for constructing terror tunnels; and diving equipment for Hamas’ naval operations. For instance, on Nov. 6, a 22-year-old Gaza fisherman was indicted for smuggling diving equipment and binoculars on behalf of Hamas.

During the summer of 2016, Israel arrested two Palestinians who defrauded international charities to smuggle vast quantities of items and large sums of money for Hamas. Mohammed el-Halabi, the former director of the Gaza branch of the international Christian charity World Vision, was arrested for diverting up to $7.2 million per year to Hamas—approximately 60 percent of the charity’s budget. The Shin Bet said that el-Halabi used the money to fund Hamas’s military operations, including the digging of “terror tunnels.” And on Jan. 4, 2017, Wahid Abdallah al-Bursh, a former employee of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was sentenced to seven months in jail after admitting to embezzling UNDP resources to fund Hamas’ naval operations.

Israel’s determination to thwart these smuggling attempts into Gaza has helped shield Israeli civilians who live nearby from Gaza-based attacks. Furthermore, heightened tensions along the Gaza-Israel border frequently serve to ignite violence in the West Bank. By mitigating threats from Gaza, Israel has prevented—to some degree—a spiral of hostilities that can lead to lone-wolf and other emotionally inspired Palestinian attacks elsewhere.

Arresting Islamic State Aspirants

Finally, Israel has improved its security by investigating and arresting Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who seek to join the Islamic State (ISIS). The danger that such individuals may become further radicalized and use ISIS training to attack Israelis poses a significant threat to the Jewish state. On Sept. 22, the Shin Bet arrested an Israeli-Arab couple accused of having joined ISIS in Iraq.  Most recently, on Nov. 30, the Shin Bet revealed that it had arrested an Israeli Arab from Jaljulia, in central Israel, suspected of planning to join the Islamic State.

Disrupting terrorist cells, shuttering weapons production facilities, thwarting smuggling attempts into Gaza and preventing Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs from joining ISIS have enabled Israeli security to contain, but not stop, the wave of Palestinian terrorism. The recent fatal truck ramming in Jerusalem, reportedly carried out by a lone ISIS sympathizer, serves as a stark reminder that Israeli security forces must remain vigilant to stay ahead of this threat. 

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report