The abduction of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas last week is proof that the movement is stepping up its terrorist activity against Israelis.
Notwithstanding our shock and concern for the welfare of the three boys, we must admit that the kidnapping did not come as a surprise.
For many months now, the number of attacks against Israel has been rising steadily. Since this past November, more than 20 bombings have taken place, most of them in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. In addition, dozens of gas bombs have been thrown at citizens and two stabbing incidents occurred – one ending in the death of a male IDF soldier, another in the wounding of a female soldier.
And, of course, dozens upon dozens of attempts have been made that were thwarted by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) before they could be carried out.
Per Shin Bet statistics, 187 serious attacks were prevented from taking place in 2013. Eight-four of them were planned by Hamas (45 percent).
Of these, 28 were kidnapping attempts in which victims would have been used as a negotiating tool.
A number of operations to thwart terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria were particularly impressive. In one such operation in January 2013, the Shin Bet located a terrorist cell belonging to the military wing of Hamas in the Hebron area, which was working to establish a regional command center. The cell’s aim was to restore military operations in the area and kidnap Israelis for the purpose of bargaining for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The Shin Bet arrested and interrogated 20 Hamas activists from this Hebron cell, most of whom were already known to the Israeli security authorities and had already spent time in Israeli prisons.
A second operation was carried out in March 2013, when the Shin Bet exposed a terrorist cell belonging to the Hamas military wing in the village of Bani Na’im in the South Hebron Hills area. This cell was also planning on carrying out attacks and kidnappings of Israelis.
While under interrogation, some of the Hamas activists admitted to planning to kidnap and murder Israelis who were working in agriculture near Bani Na’im, with the purpose of using their bodies to negotiate for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Since the start of 2014, 96 terrorist attempts were thwarted, 45 of which were planned by Hamas operatives.
The Shin Bet is only capable of preventing attacks if it succeeds in obtaining the necessary information about the infrastructure of terrorist cells, so it can neutralize the attacks before they even take place.
The agency utilizes a variety of methods toward this end, including planting undercover agents in the target population, installing wiretaps, carrying out surveillance, monitoring changes in behavior and utilizing technological devices. Moreover, since the terrorist organizations have begun using the Internet and encrypted software, Israeli intelligence has invested tremendous resources in cyber warfare.
The Shin Bet’s goal is to locate any and all suspicious activity, and its agents are constantly searching for unusual or unexpected movement.
It relies on the principle that the more people who are privy to confidential information or are involved in a specific plan, the higher the chance that Israeli intelligence agents will uncover helpful information.
(As a well-known Arabic proverb states, “A secret between two will be known to 1,000.”) Accordingly, the chances that the Shin Bet can uncover and thwart a terrorist attack that was planned and carried out by a single person are relatively low. However, the probability rises significantly as soon as other individuals are involved in the planning and carrying out of an attack.
In addition, if the cell receives assistance from or is overseen by a large-scale terrorist organization, this also provides increased opportunities for Israeli agents to gather intelligence and succeed in finding individuals who are either directly or indirectly involved in planning the attack.
It is clear that the assaults carried out against Jewish Israelis in recent months were initiated and planned by local individuals and small cells. These people are most likely frustrated with the lack of progress in political negotiations with Israel. Palestinian living conditions are worsening, and the number of people with relatives who were injured by the IDF is growing. And when one terrorist attack succeeds, this causes a chain reaction and others suddenly think that, they too, can successfully kidnap an Israeli.
Although most attacks are foiled in their early stages, over the last few months a number of planned attacks reached advanced stages before they were successfully stopped. It is quite rare that a plan actually comes to fruition, and that a full-fledged attack is carried out in Israel. In these cases intelligence collection takes place after the attack, in an effort to identify the infrastructure involved and to prevent these individuals or cells from carrying out future attacks.
Such intelligence gathering is usually carried out within an extremely short amount of time.
For example, the perpetrator of the pipe bomb that was discovered on the Dan bus on Tel Aviv’s Shaul Hamelech Street last year was arrested just a few hours later; the chase for the terrorist had been relentless, until he was found and apprehended.
Terrorist organizations are using more and more of their resources to carry out terrorist attacks, and Palestinian security forces do nothing to stop them. These organizations are continuously refining their capabilities, working to improve their skills and using more sophisticated technology – and they are remaining very cautious.
As a result, Israeli security forces are facing increasing challenges.
Despite the fact that our forces succeed in catching close to 100% of planned attacks before they take place, as we saw this past week, it only takes one miss to cause real damage to human life and public morale.
The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner