Is ISIS Setting Its Sights on Israelis Abroad?

It's still unclear whether Istanbul bomber deliberately targeted Israeli tour group, but Hezbollah has long ago reached conclusion that weakest link in Israel's security is its citizens abroad.

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A man prays at the scene of a suicide bombing at Istiklal street, a major shopping and tourist district, in central Istanbul, Turkey March 20, 2016.
A man prays at the scene of a suicide bombing at Istiklal street, a major shopping and tourist district, in central Istanbul, Turkey March 20, 2016.Credit: Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

It is still unclear whether the ISIS suicide bomber who on Saturday killed Israelis Simcha Damari, Jonathan Shur and Avraham Goldman, as well as an Iranian citizen, was deliberately targeting Israelis. The Turkish media claims that from CCTV footage it seems the bomber was shadowing the group of Israeli foodies from their hotel. Whether or not he happened upon them by coincidence or it was designed, these are not the first Israelis to be murdered by ISIS.

They were preceded by the couple Emanuel and Miriam Rave, who were murdered at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014, and three months later by American-Israeli freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, who was beheaded in Syria by ISIS. The Raves were in the wrong place at the wrong time and Sotloff’s captors were not aware of his dual nationality. None of them were murdered because they were Israelis.

ISIS have yet to take responsibility for Saturday’s attack, though they have made clear in recent statements, in an online video and in their magazine Dabiq, that they plan to strike against Israel. The IDF’s intelligence branch believe it is just a matter of time before one of the ISIS-affiliated groups in Sinai or on the Golan Heights tries to launch an attack which they hope will garner them admiration in the Arab and Muslim world. So far such an attack has yet to materialize, mainly due to the physical obstacles and electronic surveillance on the borders.

The Shin Bet believes that unlike in Europe, where local intelligence services are finding it difficult to detect Muslim citizens who have been radicalized and become jihadists, it is capable of monitoring the small number of Arab Israelis who have joined ISIS. Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen recently said dismissively that “there are more Swedes than Israelis in ISIS.”

Israel is without a doubt more experienced in this form of counterterrorism than the Europeans. But the new details emerging about ISIS’s growing sophistication – the team of attackers who killed 130 people four months ago in Paris did not exchange even one phone call or text message between them – indicates how serious a challenge they are. Hezbollah, which has much more experience in attacking Israel, has long ago reached the conclusion that the weakest link in Israel’s security is Israelis traveling abroad. Hezbollah took advantage of this in 2012 when it murdered five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian driver in Burgas.

Even before it is clear whether the Israeli tourists were the intended target, the National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Bureau has upgraded the travel warning for Israelis planning a trip to Turkey. The next time, they may certainly be in ISIS’ crosshairs.

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