The Israeli intelligence community has shared information with other countries over the past two years that has helped thwart dozens of terror attacks about to be perpetrated by Islamists who were in contact with members of Islamic State and Middle Eastern factions identified with Al-Qaida.
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As part of the international effort to fight radical Islamic terror, Israeli intelligence bodies have tightened coordination with counterparts in friendly countries in recent years. Until now, there have been reports of Israeli warnings that helped thwart attacks such as the one planned by ISIS terrorists at a soccer game between host Albania and Israel.
In other cases, various media outlets reported that Israel had sent warnings before attacks in Belgium, Turkey and France. Some of the warnings were sufficient to thwart attacks. Last May, a storm arose after American papers reported that U.S. President Donald Trump had revealed in a conversation with the Russian foreign ministers details about warnings that Israel had issued regarding a plan by ISIS to blow up passenger jets flying to Europe using explosives planted inside laptop computers.
The intelligence branch of Israel’s General Staff made structural adjustments at the end of 2015 after multiple terror attacks in Paris, including the shooting at a rock show at the Bataclan theater, which left 130 people dead. After the attacks, the intelligence branch decided it needed to focus more on collecting information about the activities by terrorists abroad who are in touch with organizations in the Middle East. Since then, intelligence collaboration with spy agencies in Europe in the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaida has greatly improved.
Officials in Israel have the impression that the campaign the United States is leading against ISIS in northeastern Syria is progressing according to plan, and that within a short amount of time, ISIS will be defeated in its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. It seems that Islamic State’s vision of establishing an Islamic caliphate on terrority under its control is nearing its end. Still, the organization will continue to operate in other ways as a “virtual caliphate,” governing terrorists in various areas around the world through the internet, without a physical center to concentrate its people.
One of the possible developments worrying Israel involves the danger that some ISIS fighters who survived the battles in Syria and Iraq will seek another field to operate in and relocate to the Sinai Peninsula, where the local Islamic State affiliate, Wilayat Sinai, has fought the Egyptian regime for a number of years. The presence of more ISIS fighters in Sinai is also liable to increase the risk of attacks against Israeli targets along the Egyptian border.
Intelligence officials in Israel still identify Iran, and not radical Sunni terror, as Israel’s primary security threat. Israel is especially troubled by Iran’s operations in Syria, its efforts to establish a military presence near the border with Israel in the Golan Heights – partly through Shi’ite militias – and the extensive aid Tehran is providing Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Israeli intelligence does not view coordination between Russia and Iran in Syria as a binding covenant but rather as a temporary partnership of interests that could also change. According to Israeli assessments, Russia and Iran are expected to clash in the not-too-distant future due to competition over economically influencing the Assad regime and the two countries’ attempt to obtain economic assets in Syria, given the upper hand the regime has gained with their help in its war against the rebels.