The head of the Shin Bet security service said Monday that despite the appearance of relative quiet, Hamas and jihadist groups are trying to mount terror attacks in Israel every day.
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Reviewing Israel’s security situation at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Nadav Argaman said the region is undergoing geopolitical change that will reveberate for years to come, including the implications of the Iran nuclear agreement on terrorism in the Middle East.
Israel experienced a wave of terrorism that began in 2015 and lasted into the beginning of 2016 (the “lone-wolf intifada”), said Argaman, “and we learned to cope."
Significantly, he said, the Shin Bet managed to foil over 400 potential terrorists last year before they could execute their plans. But “the quiet we have been experiencing now, and during 2016, is misleading for a simple reason: The infrastructure of Hamas and global jihad is constantly trying to mount attacks in Israeli territory. Sadly, during the last year, 16 people and one foreign national were killed by terror attacks in Israel.”
Argaman added that with Pesach coming next month, there was no question that the terrorism networks, notably the established ones – with an emphasis on Hamas – will be trying to inflame the situation on the ground and carry out attacks. The Shin Bet’s goal, he said, is to enable Israelis to have peaceful holidays.
From October 2015 and lasting into 2016, the pace of security-related events began to decelerate, Argaman told the committee. In January 2016, there were 132 terror attacks, a number that fell to 82 the following month – versus hundreds in October 2015 alone.
In addition to the 17 fatalities in 2016, 149 people were injured. In 2015, there were 20 deaths in terror attacks and 188 injuries.
Argaman ascribed the downtrend to deterrence and Israel's moves to frustrate the terrorists.
However, studying the operations of the terror organizations as a whole shows that the threats emanating from the West Bank have continued to escalate, indicating that stability in the area continues to weaken.
The main architect of terrorism in the field remains the individual who decides to take matters into his/her own hands, but the "weight" of terror cells acting independently has been rising, Argaman said.
But the Shin Bet has improved its ability to locate and frustrate individual attackers, he added. Around 400 potential attackers were arrested before carrying out their plans, Argaman said.
Outlining his organization's successes in 2016, Argaman said the Shin Bet frustrated 344 major terror attacks, including 184 that involved guns; 16 potential abductions; 16 suicide attacks; and 86 attacks using knifes or vehicles.
Hamas had stepped up its efforts to carry out mass attacks in the West Bank and Israel in 2016, Argaman said, but Israeli forces foiled them. During the year, 1,035 Hamas activists were arrested and 114 local Hamas cells were apprehended, versus 70 in 2015.
As for the Gaza Strip, unprecedented quiet has reigned since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, with no Israeli casualties for the first time in 30 years, Argaman reported.
During 2016, there were 44 terror attacks that originated in Gaza, the same number as 2015. Most involved guns and were planned by Salafi jihadist groups.
At the moment, Argaman said, Hamas is staying shy of getting involved in another war because it isn't optimally prepared, and because of the damage caused by the 2014 campaign. But it is building up its forces and the quiet is deceptive, Argaman said.
Key factors that could destabilize the situation in Gaza are activity by "rebel" forces in the Salafi-jihadi scene; deliberate terrorism by Hamas; progress in building its military forces; failure to advance with rehabilitation from the damage caused by the 2014 war; crisis in major infrastructure (such as electricity or water); and a further increase in unemployment, Argaman said. He added that Hamas is having difficulty finding effective solutions to the civil difficulties encountered by Gazans.
Moving onto the jihadi movement and its effect on Israel, Argaman noted some limited activity by established Salafi-jihadist forces in the West Bank.
Among residents of East Jerusalem, there has been a significant increase in involvement in terrorism, and the number of people identifying with jihad: 29 East Jerusalemites were involved in terrorism in 2016, up from three in 2015.
Israeli Arabs are generally little involved in terrorism, Argaman said, but there has been a slight uptick in their sense of identity and/or support for Islamic State in 2015 and 2016.
In Gaza, Hamas actually sees the jihad movement as a major threat – but there are shared interests between Hamas' military arm and Wilayat Sinai, the ISIS-affiliated group in the Sinai Peninsula, the Shin Bet chief said.
As for Jewish terrorism, in 2016 there were only two attacks perpetrated by Jews – a significant decrease from 2015 when there were 16 such attacks.