Israel is a tiny country that exists in the Middle East surrounded by the old foes some of who are now friends and are the same Arab countries that fought many wars with Israel. Israel has one of the great armies in the world that can fight on many fronts at the same time and has the ability to defeat the enemy on every front.
There are many challenges that Israel faces currently, both internationally and domestically. These are as listed below:
In this article, I will discuss the biggest and the most important issue that Israel faces: terrorism. The state of Israel is bordered by Egypt, Jorden, Syria, Lebanon and Palestinian territories (West bank and the Gaza strip). Israel shares maritime border with Cyprus. However, the borders with Syria (Golan Heights), Lebanon (Shebba Farms) and the Palestinian territories are still disputed.
The Current Security Threat
Israel is fighting against terrorism for decades and the children who have directly or indirectly suffered from the menace of terrorism have grown old but the conflict remains active and the terrorism in Israel has left a great mark in the history of this conflict.
There are many political reasons behind the wave of terrorism domestically and internationally. Israel has many enemies from across its borders such as Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Qatar and many other Arab countries. Those countries’ enmity is based on political and regional conflict and these conflicts have destroyed the image of Israel locally and transnationally. These countries could not win the war imposed on Israel, so they chose non state organisations and proxy groups to weaken the strength of Israel.
People sitting out of the bubble cannot sketch the exact map of the hidden hands behind the terrorism. No doubt, Israel is a strong country and is able to fight against proxy groups but the people of Israel still live under fear of terrorism. They cannot forget the marks of terrorism that are left behind and continue to impact them psychologically. They lost thousands of souls in the wave of terrorism.
If we look at the wave of terrorism in Israel that lasted four years from 2015 -2019, it’s hard to imagine how Israel survived from such terrorism that came from within but was financed and supported by enemies across Israel borders.
According to the Israeli ministry of Foreign Affairs:
“Since Sep 2015, Israel has experienced a wave of terror perpetrated by individuals, many of them very young inspired by incitement in Palestinian social and traditional media urged on by the Palestinian leadership.”
Since 2015, Palestinian terrorists have targeted Israelis in:
In these terrorist incidents, Israel lost 84 its citizens and 1388 wounded but the Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas said, “It was a peaceful uprising.”
Only from March 2018 till July 2019, Israel has paid a great cost due to terrorism that has shaken the security of Israel and has also created a financial blowback.
In the wave of terrorism from the year of 2018 till 2019:
These terrorist attacks damaged Israeli economy by estimated $14 million in one year. This is a great loss to the state of Israel, a country with a population of only 8.8M, equivalent to Wales, the region of the United Kingdom.
Israel is the only country whose national security challenges are unique in kind that no other nation has ever been surrounded by potential and active enemies in this way.
The Resistance of Fatah
When the State of Israel was created in the holy land in 1948, the massive wave of Palestinians escaped to the neighbouring Arab countries. Their main goal was to build the Palestinian political structure and it created a great leadership and organisational vacuum. The space was filled by a terrorist organisation called Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO’s goal was to start resistance against Israel by committing terrorist acts against the Israeli community all around the world.
The young Palestinian youth had no leader, no political organisation and they were displaced and had sought refuge in Arab countries, therefore they considered the PLO their last hope.
At that time, the biggest challenge for Israel were the cells of Fedayeen (Arabic word for those who give sacrifice for a great religious cause). These Fedayeen were supported, financed and trained by intelligence services of some Arab countries. In 1950, they infiltrated Israeli border from Jorden (West Bank) and from Egypt (Gaza strip) in order to ambush vehicles on the road and attack isolated settlements.
Soon after the Syrian war, the Fedayeen attacks rapidly dropped but it emerged in other parts of Israel. Although the PLO was established under the auspices of Egypt as the official voice of the Palestinians, the Egyptians soon realised that the Palestinians may abandon their semi military effort and they organised a military component within the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA), with a conventional force structure equipped and trained by Egypt.
Palestinians enhanced their activities on Israeli-Jorden border between 1968 and 1970. They carried out attacks against Jewish settlements and perpetrated gun attacks and planted explosives. There were more than 140 attacks which were set up by small terror cells that crossed the border and carried out ambushes against the Israel Defence Force (IDF).
At the peak of these incidents, Fatah formed unofficial terrorist organisation called Black September organisation (BSO). After the explosion at the PLO headquarters in Jorden, they transferred their basis to Western Europe and Arab countries. At that time, the Gaza strip became the base of terrorism activities. Local PLO activists initiated more than sixty terrorist attacks in Gaza against Jewish civilians and these activities carried out three years after the 1967 war.
In the late 1960s, Palestinian terrorist groups under the umbrella of Fatah realised that they did not achieve the goal to bring international media’s attention to their cause. They changed their strategy and reconstructed the organisation. They plotted and executed the attacks very well in order to attract attention of the masses all over the world with the goal of striking high-profile targets and economical hubs.
Their well-organised attacks made the scholars give it the name of “Theatre of Terror”. The most prominent demonstration of this theatre of terror was the wave of 16 successful or attempted hijackings from 1968 to 1976. Another potential target was against the Israeli aviation and to attack on ground offices of El Al, Israel’s national airline. At the same time, Palestinian terrorist groups reorganised in foreign countries, moving from country to country, recruiting activists and opening up new bases in different parts of the world.
The biggest BSO terrorist activity was the hostage-taking of nine Israeli athletes’ delegation to the Olympics in Germany. This attack helped bring the media spotlight to BSO’s mission. The live coverage of the international media boosted their cause internationally and it also damaged the Israeli retaliation operation to rescue their athletes. At the end, all Israeli athletes were killed mercilessly by the BSO terrorists.
Fatah forces were able to launch missile attacks against Israeli settlements from May to June 1981. They used Katyushas, a Russian made missile which was first used in the World War Two. Fatah reorganised itself and formed a new shape which has a capability to conduct well designed attacks against their only enemy, Israel. They started attacking Israeli high-profile targets, from May 1981 to June 1982, conducting at least nine terrorist attacks against Israeli diplomats and Jewish community centers. These attacks left no option for Israel but to launch the military operation “Operation Peace for Galilee” on June, 1982 that was the beginning of the Lebanon War.
The Emergence of Hamas
Hamas was officially founded in 1984 in response to the outbreak of the First Intifada but few people know that it was originally founded in 1967 as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. Hamas is much more popular among the Palestinian youth because it is less corrupt compared with the mainstream political organisation of the West Bank, Palestinian Authority. Hamas is a resistance organisation that believes in armed conflict to achieve the goal which is to establish an Islamic state in the holy land and exterminate the entire Jewish population of Israel.
Hamas has carried out uncountable terrorist attacks against the Israeli civilians, including shootings, stabbings, suicide bombings, missile and rocket attacks as well as kidnapings of the IDF personnel via underground terror tunnels. It has a military wing that is called Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, also known as Qassam Brigade in short. Qassam Brigade was founded in 1992 under the direct instruction of Yahya Ayyash with the primary objective of building a consistent and comprehensive military organisation to assist the goals of Hamas. Since the beginning of the second Intifada, no other Palestinian organisation has executed as many suicide attacks or multiplied as many Israeli casualties as Hamas, in particular its military wing Qassam Brigade.
They call themselves freedom fighters and reject the term ‘terrorist’ for them but in fact freedom fighters do not hit civilians and only target governmental infrastructure and military installations. A terrorist organisation does not differentiate between civilians and military personnel. Hamas also does not differentiate between civilians and Israeli security forces as their manifesto states “Virtually all Israelis, including women serve in the occupation army.” This is the case in the European Union and the United States listed Hamas as well as its military wing Qassam Brigade as a terrorist organisation in 2005.
Nowadays, Hamas is the largest and most influential Palestinian movement. The organisation won the PA’s general legislative elections, defeating the Fatah, the party of the PA’s president Mahmoud Abbas in 2006. Since the attainment of power, Hamas has continued its refusal to recognise the state of Israel, which led to crippling economic sanctions.
Counter Terrorism Strategy
History knows that since the creation of the state of Israel, the tiny country has been plagued by terrorism nationally and internationally. Before the rebirth of the state of Israel, in 1920, The Hagana (Defence) organisation was established. Initially, its objectives were mainly defensive but after the increase of Arab violence, an offensive strategy was adopted in 1936-1938, finally resulting in the creation of the Palmach, the offensive arm of the Hagana.
The majority of the Palestinian political structure began to develop outside the Israeli border, after the establishment of the state of Israel. These structures forced Israeli intelligence organisations to invest much greater effort internationally than nationally.
In 1950, when the Palestinian Fadayeen attacks increased, the IDF immediately created its first counter terrorism force – The Unit Ror. The unit started its operations nationally to counter the domestic wave of terrorism in 1953 by the Fatah militants. Following the criticism on the operation in the Qibaya Village on Oct 1953 the Unti Ror was disbanded and incorporated into the Paratroopers Brigade. Unfortunately, the unit did not achieve the goal to reduce the heat of (Fadayeen) terrorism against the Israeli population and after it was dismantled, Palestinian violence to target Israeli civilians continued in full force.
In every decade, new security challenges started to emerge. The terrorists started new techniques to harm the unarmed population as well as the IDF successfully. Due to the growing population of Palestinians and less control of those areas that were handed back, the wave of terrorism increased which give a tough time to the Israeli security establishment.
Since the 1967 war, the role of Israeli intelligence and security services has grown because the territory expended and extra 150,000 Palestinian population suddenly came under Israeli control as a result of war. While Shin Bet and IDF were busy in countering domestic terrorism, focusing on Israeli Palestinians as well as residents of Gaza and West bank, Mossad was gathering sensitive intel outside the Israeli border as well as conducting secret operations.
Time flies and Israeli counter Terrorism policy continue changing its objectives. For example:
The policy has been reviewed between the time of 1968-1976, when the growing wave of Israeli airlines hijacking and Israel first ever introduced “Armed Sky Marshals” trained by Sin Bet on board of all E1 A1 flights and this strategy proved quite effective and reduced Palestinian aviation terrorism. It was a time when new counter terrorism policy was introduced to hand over all Israeli airports under Shin Bet security and that strategy was adapted after the 1972 Lod airport attack by the Japanese Red Army that forged alliance with the Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). These security measures of the Shi Ben reduced the aviation Terrorism.
There were some counter terrorism operations that were completely failed and one of those operations were carried out Mossad. The failed operation was named “The Wrath of God” which was carried out just after two months of the 1972 Olympic massacre in that Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes. The operation was wrongly misjudged and failed. The operation was authorised by the then Prime Minister Golda Meir. The operation was undermined the capability of Mossad in the EU countries. The Palestinian Intelligence network worked hard and gathered strong Intel to strike at EU based Mossad Intel-Gathering officers and their informants. A few Mossad operatives were captured and the operation was closed down on July 1973 with failure outcomes. The failure of the operation “The Wrath of God” opened a political and parliamentary debate about what are the achievable goals of counter terrorism strategy and how to achieve them.
Between 1983 and 1992, there were numerous military operations carried out by the IDF against the terrorist organisations in the various territories of Israel and within the occupied regions including Gaza, Lebanon and some areas of the West bank. These operations were coordinated among security, police and intelligence departments with the approval of the Israeli security cabinet.
These military operations no doubt de-escalated the terror activities against Israel but did not eliminate them completely and there were many reasons behind it. These organisations have deep roots in several countries, including Arab as well as European countries. Their money trail via charity funding was very strong and not easy to control. They had powerful connections within the Arab and leftist Western leaders therefore it was hard for Israel to achieve its goals against these terrorist organisations by using force. Israel needed to carry out cover operations starting from within its own boundaries.
There was another internal threat to the Israeli society was to emerge in the early 80s and that was local gangs and amorphous social networks. It was crucial for Shin Bet (Israeli domestic security agency) to reach the roots of these networks and gangs. The Shin Bet needed a strong surveillance system in place and also required intensive human intelligence (HUMINT) resources. This was happening around the same time when the first Intifada erupted.
The Shin Bet and Mossad had one goal which was to eliminate terrorism completely but in reality, both agencies knew very well that it is not possible in current conditions. The former head of the Shin Bet, Yaakov Peri expressed his view about this possibility: “A definition we have always used [is] to eliminate terrorism, to achieve its destruction… everyone knew the truth, that in a proper and effective war we could minimise but a total solution was impossible.”
The Israeli establishment later decided to deter the terrorism masterminds from their roots, and so they approved targeted assassination operations by the Mossad on transnational grounds. They successfully eliminated top figures of Palestinian terrorist organisations that damaged the influence of organisations within their capability. These targets included head of their organisation branches in EU and Arab countries as well as a high profile figures whose job was to collect and finance terrorism from different countries. This deadly strategy worked out for Israel and temporarily weakened the roots of those terror organisations.
When the time passed and Israel faced many new and sophisticated terrorism flames, they introduced new counter strategy which was to dry up the finance of terrorism. When they investigated, they found the great cooperation and linked network of national and international finance and money laundering. These networks were connected deeply and widely with local and transnational channels which were located in the West bank, Gaza, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Qatar to the European countries. There were many local money changers in the old city of Jerusalem, whose branches were also present in Gaza and in the PA areas. These money changers were the local and the main sources of financing of terrorism.
The Israeli establishment wanted to exterminate these networks that devastated the peaceful life of Israeli society by escalating the flames of terrorism. The Israeli Prime Minister ordered to establish a new department head by the legendary Mossad boss Meir Dagan, who introduced a top-secret counter terror finance operation called “Harpoon”. The newly creating department began directing spies, soldiers and attorneys to disrupt and destroy money pipelines and financial institutions that paid for the bloodshed perpetrated by Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. The operation was widely collaborated with other security services including the CIA and Mi6 to completely eradicate the financing and money laundering networks. The operation went hugely successful and it completely destroyed the pipeline of money that financed the Palestinian terrorism.
The history of national and transnational terrorism roots that caused a greatest security threat to Israel is old and detailed which cannot be fully discussed in few thousand words. The state of Israel cannot achieve its security goals with conducting the military operations, which can for the time being deter the wave of terrorism but it brings with heavy international pressure and in this case, Israel is helpless but to abide the laws of international treaties. There are several other ways that can minimise the root causes of terrorism, including conditional peace talks, political pressure and ceasing the financial capabilities of the terrorist networks.
Israel should establish the three different strong committees with the collaboration of PA and Jordan respectively in order to build up political and religious pressure to maintain the peace in the conflict zones.
Political Committee: Political Members from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to maintain peace in the territories.
Religious Committee: Religious figures from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to maintain peace in the area of the Aqsa Mosque.
Military-Intel Committee: Military and Intel officials of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to fight and possibly deter every form of terrorism.
These committees should be accountable to the PM office of Israel and to the Palace of Jordanian Kingdom. These committees should also be responsible to maintain political calmness, religious peace and law & order situation in the conflict zones as well as halt the terrorism wave from Gaza. They should also collaborate with each other in order to provide safe and peaceful environment for both communities of Israel and Palestinian Authority. They should conduct a combine monthly report of conflicted areas and provide them to the higher authorities to review the political, religious and military strategies.
To create the peaceful environment in Israel and other surrounding territories is hard but not impossible if both affected parties join and work hard together to maintain the long-lasting peace while complying with human rights and progressive values.
ITCT does not necessarily endorse any or all views expressed by the author in the article.
Executive Director (UK)