Islamic State is back, and the Israel Police, Shin Bet need to play catch-up - analysis

Six Israelis have been killed in less than a week. How did Israel’s security establishment miss these two attacks?

Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a shooting attack in Hadera, March 27, 2022. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a shooting attack in Hadera, March 27, 2022.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Deadly attacks in the heart of two Israeli cities in the span of less than a week have claimed the lives of six citizens and will force the security establishment to investigate how it was caught off guard.

The footage of Sunday’s attack, which was caught on CCTV, showed two men opening fire on a group of Border Police officers. One victim was shot four times in 40 seconds by one of the terrorists, who then stole her weapon and used it to open fire on others.

The attack claimed the lives of two young Border Police officers, Yezen Falah and Shirel Abukarat. Islamic State claimed responsibility for it.

It was devastating, but it could have been much worse. The attackers arrived at the scene with 1,100 bullets, at least three handguns and six knives.

Luckily, officers from the Israel Police’s Yamas undercover unit were eating dinner 30 meters away and were able to stop the attackers less than two minutes after they began their rampage.

The two terrorists carried out the attack less than a week after an ISIS supporter stabbed four Israeli civilians to death in Beersheba.

 The scene of a car ramming and stabbing attack outside the big shopping center in Beer Sheva, southern Israel, on March 22, 2022.  (credit: FLASH90) The scene of a car ramming and stabbing attack outside the big shopping center in Beer Sheva, southern Israel, on March 22, 2022. (credit: FLASH90)

Questions must be asked. How did the security forces miss this? How were the attackers able to amass such an arsenal without being noticed?

The continued plague of violence and murders in Israel’s Arab communities has rocked the country, which for decades ignored the violence that had been sweeping the community. And while many of the weapons are handguns, others are military-grade, including M16s, AR-15s, AK-47s and bullpups.

The amount of illegal weaponry on the streets in Israel is catastrophic. According to GunPolicy.org, there were an estimated 267,000 illegal weapons in Israel in 2017 and almost twice as many by 2020. According to a Knesset estimate, some 400,000 illegal weapons were circulating around the country.

But that’s just one issue. How did the police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) miss the radicalization of the attackers?

THERE HAVE been Islamic State attacks in Israel in the past. But since the collapse of the group’s territorial caliphate in 2019, it has struggled to attract support from those who could carry out attacks in their name. The threat posed by the terrorist group had diminished, many thought, and the focus of security forces around the world shifted to other threats targeting their citizens.

During the height of Islamic State’s power, nearly 100 Israelis joined the terrorist group, and several Arab-Israelis were arrested by the Shin Bet and Israel Police for seeking to join it. Several of those who joined the group were killed, and a small number are believed to have returned to Israel, either by their own accord or after being caught by Turkish authorities while trying to cross the border.

According to reports, the majority of those imprisoned for their support for ISIS have been released from prison and, like the attacker in Beersheba, were not followed by the police.

In October 2015, authorities broke up the first known case of an ISIS plot in Israel and indicted seven Arab-Israelis on charges of belonging to an ISIS cell planning to attack military targets.

The first deadly attack believed to have been inspired by the jihadist group was in January 2016, when an Arab-Israeli went on a shooting spree in Tel Aviv, killing three people. Six months later, two Palestinians shot dead four Israelis at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market.

Years have passed since the last attack carried out by Islamic State-affiliated terrorists, but now ISIS has again reared its destructive head.

In addition to possible terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians during Ramadan, the security forces will have to shift back toward the threat posed by the jihadist group.

“A second attack by ISIS supporters inside Israel requires the security forces to adapt quickly to the new threat, and so we will do that,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday. He urged citizens to be vigilant, saying: “Together, we will also be able to defeat this enemy.”

But while you can destroy the group’s caliphate, its ideology is much tougher to kill.

THE ATTACK in Beersheba was carried out by Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, a Bedouin from the nearby town of Hura, who was shot dead by civilians after he stabbed four Israelis to death at a shopping center in the heart of the city.

While Kiyan was a known Islamic State supporter and had family members who joined the jihadist group in Syria, The Jerusalem Post has learned that the police are inclined to believe the attack was nationalistically motivated and not carried out in the name of ISIS.

The attack lasted eight minutes, and police arrived at the scene four minutes after Kiyan was killed.

It was eight minutes of carnage that should have been a warning for the Shin Bet and the police. While they did increase their alert level across the country, they missed the attackers from Umm el-Fahm, one of whom had a brother serving in the police.

One of the terrorists, Ibrahim Agbarieh, tried to join Islamic State, Haaretz reported.

One of the Hadera attackers also had previously posted photos that show him next to Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Since his release from prison earlier this year, Salah has been spearheading the call for violence.

There is real concern by the security establishment of copycat attacks following the two deadly ones this past week. There is fear that religious radicalization and Ramadan, Passover and Easter will lead to an explosion not seen in Israel for many years.

Following the two attacks, security forces have increased their alert and readiness levels across the country, not only in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In addition to the lone-wolf terrorists like Israel has seen in the past, including the attacker from Beersheba, terrorist groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah – all of which praised the attack – may try to carry out more of them to fan the flames.

In addition to the religious holidays, in May, there will be the first anniversary of Operation Guardian of the Walls, which saw riots across the country in mixed Jewish and Arab cities like Lod and in the Negev, as well as Land Day and the continued tensions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The police officer’s brother was not responsible for the attacker’s actions, sources told the Post. While that is true, the question remains: The writing was on the Facebook walls of the attackers. If they missed the attacks in Beersheba and Hadera, what is in store for Israel in the coming months?