The under-reported use of Hezbollah's Internet recruitment tactics

While these failed attempts have been foiled by intelligence services and official Israeli authorities, their widely misunderstood efforts pose a major terrorist threat to Israel.

Iran's proxies, including Hezbollah, are empowered throughout the Middle East  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's proxies, including Hezbollah, are empowered throughout the Middle East
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic State, throughout its tenure of terror, has used Internet channels such as social media, Telegram and WhatsApp to recruit or direct willing "martyrs" to carry out their sadistic plans, according to a report published over the weekend by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
However, what goes very much under the radar is that Hezbollah has a long and storied history of using these same tactics to recruit Palestinians to murder Israeli citizens and inspire terror, according to a recent study by the CTC Sentinel.
"From the end of 2015 through 2017, both the Islamic State and Hezbollah recruited terrorists outside their base countries using social media and encrypted communications platforms to help people form cells and conduct terrorist attacks abroad," wrote IPT.
While Islamic State has been successful on many occasions of inspiring these types of terror attacks via the Internet, such as in Manchester, Orlando, Brussels, Paris and San Berdino, Hezbollah has failed to actualize any of their efforts within the Palestinian-Israeli communities.
However, while these failed attempts have been foiled by intelligence services and official Israeli authorities, these widely misunderstood efforts do pose a major terrorist threat to Israel.
"Hezbollah’s attempts to incite, fund and direct acts of terrorism in Israel and the West Bank began in the mid-1990s and increased following Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000," the CTC study reported. "The terrorist organization’s activities in this area can be divided into three broad categories: working with established Palestinian terrorist groups; recruiting individuals in Europe to enter and carry out activities in Israel; and recruiting individuals and groups of Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and Lebanese."
Hezbollah uses anti-Israel Facebook groups to recruit Palestinian "martyrs," and so far the latest study has document six publicly available cases of these citizens being recruited by Hezbollah handlers online.
They develop ties with these prospects online, and after gaining a good rapport, the handlers and the terror cells move on to encrypted means of chatting with one another - giving instructions on how to kill Israelis and being requested to form terror cells with other trusted West Bank citizens, according to CTC.
"According to the analysis, all of the recruits and cell members were young men from across the West Bank between the ages of 18-32. The sole exception was 49-year-old Mustafa Ali Mahmoud Basharat – who did not make it very far in the planning process before Israel foiled that plot," IPT explained.
Within the correspondences, Hezbollah will offer information on how to build explosives as well as relay intelligence gathered from Israeli military targets – unless the terror cells are disrupted early in the process and discovered by Israeli intelligence services – including the direction of kidnappings, bombings or shooting attacks against Israeli military targets.
IPT explained that in one case, a Hezbollah-led "cell started to build explosives to use in a suicide bombing targeting an Israeli bus.
"Beyond inspiration and direction, Hezbollah provided material support," IPT wrote. "The terrorist group promised, and often sent, large financial transfers to Palestinian recruits. Muhammad Zaghloul, for example, was promised $25,000 but only received $5,000 after Israeli authorities blocked part of the transfer. Zaghloul used the money to buy a sub-machine gun and ammunition after proposing to assassinate a senior IDF officer."
Israeli security forces arrested the cell in the final stages of operation.
CTC said that many of these handlers hid their identities from their recruits. However, in some cases, they were prominent figures, such as Jawad Nasrallah, son of secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, and Fa'iz Abu-Jadian, a notorious Hezbollah operative known to be working out of the Gaza Strip in conjunction with the Hamas-led militant government.
"Since the mid-1990s, Hezbollah has been active in stoking violence against Israel from the Palestinian territories and helping Iran transfer money to Palestinian terrorist organizations. During the Second Intifada, Iran tasked arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh with strengthening Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad," IPT said.
"Coordination between Hamas and Hezbollah helped Palestinian terrorists execute the deadliest attack against Israelis during the Intifada: a 2002 suicide bombing at the Park Hotel during a Passover holiday gathering, which killed 30 people and wounded 140," IPT continued. "After several setbacks, however, Unit 133 gradually oriented its attention toward virtual recruitment campaigns."
It is possible that channels and handlers are still attempting to recruit these Palestinian citizens into committing acts of terror against the Israeli people. However, security forces have not released any new information since 2017.
The report indicates it is likely that today Hezbollah, and now Iran too, are taking their efforts in a new direction. Instead of using online means of recruitment, they are finding activists on the ground, such as in war-torn Syria.