The Shin Bet security service has interrogated 46 Hamas operatives in the West Bank over the past three months on suspicion of setting up a network of cells to commit attacks against Israel and to carry out a coup of the Palestinian Authority.
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Altogether, 93 Hamas members have been arrested since May for alleged involvement in this network, but only 46 have been transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning.
As a result of the arrests and interrogations, the Shin Bet, police and Israel Defense Forces have seized some 600,000 shekels ($171,000); 24 rifles, mostly M-16s; six pistols; seven rocket launchers; and a large quantity of ammunition. Defense sources estimated the cost of the arms and ammunition at several million shekels.
The head of the network was Riad Nasser, 38, of Deir Kadis near Ramallah. Nasser did jail time in Israel in the past for his Hamas activities, then was rearrested in late 2013 and put under administrative detention. The Shin Bet began questioning him in May, and says that Nasser told his interrogators he was recruited to reestablish Hamas’ military infrastructure in the West Bank back in 2010.
Nasser was recruited by Saleh Arouri, who did 16 years in an IDF prison and was subsequently deported, the Shin Bet says. Aruri now lives in Turkey.
According to the Shin Bet, Nasser’s assignment was to undermine the West Bank’s stability and “even spark a third intifada.” To this end, he set up Hamas cells in towns throughout the West Bank, and also in Jerusalem.
Many of the cell members were recruited by local Hamas leaders in these towns; these recruiters included several former Israeli prisoners. An emphasis was put on recruiting people who had studied chemistry or engineering.
The Shin Bet says the cells were also planning to topple the PA. Nevertheless, they don’t seem to have progressed far toward that goal. Up to the time of their arrest, their efforts were focused mainly on acquiring arms and recruiting additional members, and the numbers of both they managed to obtain are minuscule compared to the thousands of men and thousands of rifles in the PA security services.
The network also had a branch in Jordan, headed by another former Israeli prisoner, Oudeh Zaharan, 54. The Shin Bet says Zaharan served as a liaison between the West Bank cells and Hamas officials overseas. The latter transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to the West Bank cells for use in purchasing arms and safe houses; some of these houses were also meant to serve as rocket manufactories.
A senior Shin Bet official said the network was arrested before it could commit any attacks. He added that Khaled Meshal, the Qatar-based head of Hamas’ political bureau, was aware of the effort to establish the cells, and said Israel had briefed both the PA and Jordan on the findings of the investigation.
Other key members of the network included Salah Barakat, a 35-year-old Israeli citizen and Jerusalem resident, and Dr. Majdi Mafarja, 32, who was recruited in Malaysia. Mafarja has a doctorate in computer science, specializing in encryption and cyber warfare.