The Shin Bet security service announced Sunday that the agency had arrested members of an Islamic Jihad terror cell that planned to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The plot involved planting explosives along a highway that he was expected to use.
The suspects were taken into custody following the arrest of members of another Islamic Jihad cell operating in Bethlehem area villages in the West Bank. They had been recruited to carry out shooting attacks on Israeli residents and Israeli troops in the vicinity of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem.
A total of six suspects from both cells were arrested.
The Shin Bet said that the first operatives arrested had also sought to obtain explosives and made contact with sources in the Gaza Strip for funding a terrorist attack. After failing to obtain the explosives, they decided to make a dummy explosive charge that they could use to garner recognition for their work and receive money that would be used to carry out terrorist attacks. Israeli forces obtained the dummy explosive when they arrested the suspects.
An investigation into the plan to kill the defense minister found that the cell members had been deterred by Lieberman's heavy security detail. The plot was uncovered very early in the planning process.
In a separate case in 2014, members of a Hamas cell headed by a senior Hamas figure from the Bethlehem area were arrested after trying to obtain a rocket-propelled grenade to be used to attack Lieberman’s car.
One of the six Islamic Jihad suspects was said to be motivated in part by a desire to be arrested so he would qualify for financial benefits from Islamic Jihad, as has been seen among other young people from the Bethlehem area.
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Plans to carry out the attacks reflect recent attempts by Islamic Jihad and other Gaza-based terror organization to step up their activity in the West Bank. The cell members’ attempt to seek support from terror groups in Gaza is seen as part of a continuing trend by terrorists in the West Bank to try to obtain funding, weaponry, training and sponsorship from outside forces. In addition to the recent arrests, Israel has foiled a number of attempted attacks in the West Bank by individuals who have had contact with Gaza-based terrorists in recent months.
Israeli defense officials have warned Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip that there will be grave consequences if attacks in the West Bank are carried out with the direction or involvement of terrorist forces in the Gaza Strip.