Israeli security forces report that they have arrested at least 100 suspected members of Hamas and claim to have foiled multiple bombing and kidnapping plots. These actions would seem to indicate a severe setback for Hamas’s influence in the Occupied Territories and undermine prospects for reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. With the UN vote approaching, the timing of the announcement can only help buttress the Netanyahu government’s security credentials after the embarrassment of the August 18th Eilat attacks. The arrests also coincide with a major media and diplomatic campaign by the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian activists ahead of the UN vote for recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli government states that it is not holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the cells’ presence in the Occupied Territories and that the IDF is “cooperating” with Ramallah to conduct further security sweeps and prepare for Palestinian demonstrations later this month. The following information has been officially released:
On Wednesday (September 7), it was released for publication that the IDF, Israel Security Agency and Israel Police prevented a major terrorist attack in Jerusalem last month.
The attack was thwarted after a terrorist had already entered Jerusalem planning to activate an explosive device on a bus or at a shopping mall in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood [ed note: According to unnamed sources, the "explosive device" was being delivered to a suicide bomber -- Ynet reports that the alleged suicide bomber, a 20-year old male from Hebron, is now in police custody].
The attack was prevented through joint operations by the IDF, ISA and police. During those operations, members of 13 terrorist cells (around 100 terrorists) were arrested. The detained terrorists included some senior operatives.
The ISA has noted that Hamas has been trying to rehabilitate its military infrastructure in Judea and Samaria in order to carry out attacks against Israeli targets.
According to the ISA, Hamas leadership abroad (in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) has provided funding, guidance and training for the establishment of terrorist infrastructure. Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been involved as well, attempting to move weaponry into Judea and Samaria and providing funding for terrorist activities.
Questioning of detained terrorists has revealed that they were instructed to carry out a kidnapping in order to bargain for the release of prisoners [according to media reports, these capture operations constituted the cells' main operational preparations].
Some of those arrested are being linked to a bus bombing in Jerusalem this past March. Connections with Hamas cells and fundraisers in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and China have been alluded to by the IDF and Shin Bet.
Few of the arrested individuals have yet been identified, though the Israeli media report that most of those being held in custody are “repeat offenders.” These arrests follow the detention of amnestied Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef (better known as the father of the Shin Bet’s former Hamas double agent Mosab Hassan Yousef).
Regarding that arrest, Defense Minister Ehud Barak had this to say, which reflects the Israeli government’s position on these most recent arrests:
Readiness is very high. We are determined to strike at those carrying out the attacks, to take action as much as possible to intercept the attack and we are reiterating that responsibility stems from the Gaza Strip. It is not just Islamic Jihad but also Hamas.
It looks like every player in this game is running out of options these days.
Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.