Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 16:06 GMT

2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Israel, West Bank, and Gaza

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 August 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Israel, West Bank, and Gaza, 5 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c63b63e2d.html [accessed 21 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Four Israeli citizens were killed in three separate terrorist attacks during the year, down from 13 attacks with 27 Israeli casualties in 2008. Rocket and mortar fire emanating from the Gaza Strip was the predominant form of attack. In response to an escalation of such attacks in 2008, Israeli forces conducted Operation Cast Lead from December 2008 to January 2009 to root out terrorist organizations' stockpiles of rockets and mortars in Gaza. The IAF launched airstrikes on HAMAS security installations, personnel, and other facilities, as well as rocket and mortar launch teams. On January 3, Israeli forces launched a ground invasion. Hostilities between Israeli forces and HAMAS militants continued through January 18, and the Israeli withdrawal of troops was completed on January 21. Israeli officials believed Operation Cast Lead helped achieve a level of deterrence, as rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza dropped precipitously following the conflict. Since January 2009, HAMAS has actively enforced a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, stopping rocket attacks, arresting militants firing on Israel, and negotiating agreements with the other factions to prevent violence. However, Israeli officials believed that Gaza-based terrorist organizations have used this relatively quiet period to rearm and reorganize in preparation for future conflict. There were no incidents of Palestinian suicide bombing.

In addition to Operation Cast Lead, Israel responded to terrorist threats with targeted operations directed at terrorist leaders, infrastructure, and activities such as rocket launching activities such as indirect fire into Israel. The Israel Defense Force (IDF), the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), and Palestinian Authority Security Services continued to conduct roundups and other military operations in the West Bank designed to increase pressure on terrorist organizations and their supporters. Construction of an extensive security barrier in the West Bank and Jerusalem continued in some areas. Israeli officials believed the security barrier has played an important role in making terrorist attacks more difficult to undertake. In some areas in the West Bank, such as Jenin and around Nablus, Israeli authorities eased curfews and reduced incursions to mitigate effects on the local population while maintaining a strong counterterrorism presence. Overall, Israeli security services reduced movement restrictions in the West Bank.

Given the drop in rocket/mortar fire and the absence of suicide bombing attacks, Israel security forces focused on a new trend in terrorist attacks that they dubbed "the lone terrorist." They defined "lone terrorist" incidents as those carried out by individuals typically lacking criminal records who have not previously communicated with or received support from terrorist organizations. The motivations behind these types of attacks varied from personal to political. These individuals were harder to identify and deter prior to committing attacks.

Terrorist attacks that resulted in injuries and Israeli responses included:

  • On March 5, a Palestinian driving a bulldozer rammed into a police car and a bus in Jerusalem, injuring two Israeli police officers. Israeli police and a taxi driver shot and killed the assailant.

  • On March 15, two police officers were killed in a shooting attack near Massua in the northern Jordan Valley. No suspects were identified in the attack. The "Imad Mughniyeh Group" claimed responsibility.

  • On April 2, a Palestinian with an axe killed a 13-year old Israeli and seriously wounded a seven-year-old Israeli in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin. The assailant was later arrested. Islamic Jihad and the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh both claimed responsibility for the attack.

  • On April 17, a Palestinian man infiltrated the Beit Hagai settlement and injured a member of the settlement's emergency squad with a knife. The infiltrator was shot and killed by another member of the emergency squad.

  • On May 9, a 56-year old taxi driver was kidnapped and strangled to death by three Palestinians near Gan Yavne. The assailants were arrested and claimed they committed the murder as vengeance for the death of an Islamic Jihad operative killed by the IDF in 2007.

  • On December 24, Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai was killed in a drive-by shooting while driving his own vehicle near the town of Nablus. The next day, the General Security Service and the IDF killed three terrorists reportedly responsible for Chai's death. The three individuals were previously held on terrorism charges in Israeli prisons.

Throughout the year Israel's security services were able to keep terrorist planners and operators off balance and reported multiple foiled attempts:

  • On March 21, a 40-kilogram explosive device concealed in the trunk of a car parked outside a shopping mall in Haifa was activated but failed to detonate. Israel police defused the bomb; the previously unknown Galilee Free Brigades claimed responsibility.

  • On June 16, 10 terrorists from Gaza staged a failed assault at the Karni crossing. At least four terrorists and several horses loaded with explosives were killed in the ensuing firefight with the IDF. Video footage released by the Jund Ansar Allah ("Soldiers Loyal to Allah") cell following the attack detailed preparations for the attack.

  • On November 26, IDF reservists ordered an individual approaching the Israeli border from Egypt near Eilat to stop. The individual fled the scene after dropping his bag containing a 15 kilogram explosive device.

  • On December 9, Israel border guards arrested a Palestinian attempting to carry six pipe bombs through the Qalandiya checkpoint leading into Jerusalem from the West Bank.

  • On December 24, Israeli police located and safely disarmed nine pipe bombs hidden near a bus station at the Ginaton Junction of Routes 443 and 40.

Israel security services assessed that the use of rockets and mortars reflected recognition by Palestinian terrorist groups that such indirect fire attacks stood the best chances of success, especially in light of the stringent physical security measures that limited the movement of potential suicide bombers into Green Line Israel.

Israel's security establishment remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed in the north by Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian backers. Israeli security officials argued that Iran, primarily through the efforts of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has established a sophisticated arms smuggling network from Iran through Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon. Israeli security officials said Hizballah continued to provide support to select Palestinian groups to augment their capacity to conduct attacks against Israel.

Israeli politicians and security officials pointed to Hizballah's efforts to rebuild and re-arm following the 2006 conflict against the group as evidence that it remained a threat to Israel; these officials estimated that Hizballah possessed an arsenal of over 40,000 short- and medium-range rockets. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said on several occasions that Israel will hold the government of Lebanon accountable for any attack on Israel from Lebanon.

Israeli officials continued to claim that Hizballah has moved arms south of the Litani River in violation of UN resolution 1701 and pointed to several incidents to support this assertion:

  • On July 14, between 1,000 and 1,550 kilograms of explosives detonated in the Shiite village of Khirbit Salim. Hizballah blocked United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) access to the scene, preventing further inspection.

  • On September 11, Palestinian terrorists claimed responsibility for firing two Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel near Nahariya.

  • On October 27, a Katyusha rocket was fired into northern Israel near Kirya Shmona. IDF forces responded by firing artillery shells at the source of the rocket attack.

Despite these few security incidents, Israel's northern border remained relatively quiet during the course of the year. The IDF continued a robust exercise schedule and military presence in the Golan Heights. In April, Israeli media outlets reported that Egyptian security services foiled a Hizballah cell's plot to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Sinai.

HAMAS and Hizballah continued to finance their terrorist activities against Israel primarily through state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Syria, and fundraising networks in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and to a lesser extent, elsewhere. Israel has adopted strong measures to prevent the financing of terrorism through its financial sector. Regulation and enforcement of Israel's domestic financial industry is equivalent in scope and effect to other highly industrialized and developed nations. In 2009, several changes strengthened Israel's anti-money laundering and combating of terrorism financing (AML/CT) legislation, and significantly increased the number of reported seizures related to financial crime by the Israeli National Police (INP).

The smuggling of commodities, arms, explosives, and funds in support of HAMAS through tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and Hizballah along smuggling routes in Lebanon, continued to prove problematic. Israeli officials asserted that Egypt took steps to prevent arms smuggling from the Sinai into Gaza, but can do much more in terms of arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating smugglers, destroying tunnel infrastructure, and providing socio-economic alternatives for Bedouin involved in smuggling activities.

The IAF carried out regular air strikes against smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor. On November 4, the Israel Naval Forces detained the M/V Francop and seized the largest illicit arms shipment in Israeli history. According to Israeli officials, the M/V Francop left Bandar-Abbas, Iran, bound for Latakia, Syria.

A high-profile case raised awareness regarding settler violence and acts of terrorism. On October 7, Israeli security services arrested American-born settler Yaacov "Jack" Teitel in connection with a number of crimes and terrorist attacks over the past 12 years. Teitel was arrested for posting anti-homosexual flyers, and later confessed to a number of crimes, including the murder of two Palestinians in 1997. He also claimed responsibility for several attempted bombings, including sending a parcel bomb to a Messianic Jewish family in Ariel in which a 15-year old Israeli-American boy was injured, and placing a pipe-bomb that injured Israel Prize laureate and peace activist Professor Zeev Sternhell in September 2008.

While Israeli officials praised the Israeli security services' arrest and investigation of Teitel, Israeli media outlets questioned whether the security services were sufficiently motivated or resourced to conduct investigations into settler violence. Israel security services believed Teitel acted alone, and not as part of a larger settler terrorist organization.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's November 25 decision to temporarily freeze settlement construction in the West Bank has the potential to incite further incidents of settler violence and terrorism. On December 11, a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf was set afire, apparently in response to the moratorium. Settlers repeatedly clashed with IDF and border security forces following Netanyahu's decision. Israeli media reports on a leaked IDF plan to put down settler violence and enforce the settlement freeze further increased tensions.

The Israel Security Agency and INP cooperated with U.S. law enforcement agencies on cases involving U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks. On December 7, the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) passed a controversial biometrics bill. The law seeks to create a biometric database containing fingerprints and facial scans; corresponding biometric chips will be installed in Israeli identification cards and passports. The law will not officially go into effect until the Ministry of Interior signs implementation regulations. Once the law goes into effect, Israeli citizens can volunteer to participate in the program for a two-year trial period. Israel will reassess the law following the trial period to determine if the law will be extended.

Israeli security services spent more time, attention, and resources focused on cyberterrorism. IDF leadership stressed the importance of creating a "cyber command" to combat cyber threats. Israel security officials highlighted new trends in terrorist activity on the Internet beyond collecting information posted by Israelis. These included direct and concrete appeals and proposals to Israeli citizens, especially those active in social networks, to become involved in terrorist activity or pass along classified information in exchange for payment. Concerns over such activity included divulging classified information, as well as luring Israeli citizens abroad with the promise of payment so that terrorist organizations could abduct them. Security officials called on Israeli citizens to be alert to suspicious internet or telephone appeals by unfamiliar persons.

West Bank and Gaza

The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in 2009, with an emphasis on controlling the activities of terrorist organizations, particularly HAMAS, in the West Bank. The PA remained unable to undertake counterterrorism efforts in the HAMAS-controlled Gaza Strip.

The number of rocket and mortar attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip dropped from 2,048 in 2008 to 566 in 2009, although HAMAS and other armed groups in Gaza continued to smuggle weapons, cash, and other contraband into the Gaza Strip through an extensive network of tunnels from Egypt. Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, HAMAS has actively enforced a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, stopping rocket attacks, arresting militants firing on Israel, and negotiating agreements with the other factions to prevent violence.

HAMAS continued to consolidate its control over the Gaza Strip in 2009, eliminating or marginalizing potential rivals. The Gaza Strip remained a base of operations for terrorist organizations besides HAMAS, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ); Salafi splinter groups, and clan-based criminal groups that engaged in or facilitated terrorist attacks.

HAMAS, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) remained present in the West Bank, although the improved capacity of PA security forces degraded those organizations' ability to carry out attacks inside or from the West Bank. No suicide bombings took place inside or originated from either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank in 2009. In May and June, PA security forces took direct action against HAMAS cells in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, resulting in the deaths of five militants and the arrest of a sixth. At the end of 2009, the PA held approximately 240 suspected terrorists in custody in the West Bank.

The primary PA security forces in the West Bank were the Civil Police, the National Security Forces (NSF), the Preventive Security Organization (PSO), the General Intelligence Service (GI or Mukhabarat), the Presidential Guard (PG), and the Civil Defense. They numbered approximately 27,500 in total. PA security services are under the Interior Minister's operational control and follow the Prime Minister's guidance. Israeli authorities, among others, identified the improved capacity and performance of PA security forces as a leading contributor to the improved security environment of the West Bank.

In the Gaza Strip, HAMAS relied on its internal intelligence, police, coastal patrol, border guard, and military-wing "Executive Force" bodies, numbering at least 15,000 in total. In August, HAMAS security forces took direct action against the Salafi splinter group, Jund Ansar Allah, at a mosque in Rafah. A total of 24 were killed and the group was decimated.

Terrorist organizations, particularly HAMAS and PIJ, continued to receive substantial foreign funding and support from foreign terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Iran.

There were no terrorist attacks against American citizens in the West Bank or Gaza in 2009. No apparent progress was made in apprehending, prosecuting, or bringing to justice the perpetrators of the October 2003 attack on a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza that killed three U.S. government contractors and critically injured a fourth.

Security cooperation between the PA and the Israeli government was close and productive, although there were continued Israeli military incursions in Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, which the PA strongly criticized. PA officials stressed the importance of close security cooperation with the Israeli government, but criticized what they considered slow and only partial Israeli recognition of the PA's improved security performance. For their part, Israeli officials, while noting the achievements of PA security forces against HAMAS in the West Bank, questioned the PA's willingness to deploy them against Fatah-affiliated militants. PA officials rejected this criticism.

The United States continued to assist the PA's counterterrorism efforts through capacity building of PA security forces. As of the end of the year, four NSF battalions had been trained and equipped under the auspices of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC). USSC-run training of NSF battalions took place at the International Police Training Center in Jordan.

Limitations on PA counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank included restrictions on the equipment, movement, and activities of PA security forces in areas of the West Bank for which the Israeli government retained responsibility for security. PA officials argued that Israeli incursions into Palestinian population centers in the West Bank eroded PA security forces' credibility. The limited capacity of the PA's civilian criminal justice system also hampered PA counterterrorism efforts. The PA continued to lack modern forensic capability. Ongoing low-level violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank tested the limited mandates of PA security forces.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad repeatedly condemned terrorist tactics and stated the necessity of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on a political process and peaceful negotiations. They continued to support a security program involving disarmament of fugitive militants, arresting members of terrorist organizations, and gradually dismantling armed groups. PA efforts to end incitement to violence continued, using official monitoring of sermons given in West Bank mosques. There were no such efforts against incitement in the Gaza Strip, where the de facto HAMAS authorities continued to support incitement in public statements.

The PA continued its efforts against terrorism financing in the West Bank and Gaza by increasing its capacity to detect, analyze, and interdict suspicious financial activity. The Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) continued to build the analytical capability of its Financial Intelligence Unit.

The PMA maintained a staff of roughly 80 in the Gaza Strip to conduct on-site bank examinations, including audits of bank compliance with the PA's 2007 Anti-Money Laundering (AML) decree. The PMA also licensed 90 percent of money service businesses in the West Bank and 45 percent in the Gaza Strip, under a new regulatory framework requiring moneychangers to comply with the AML law and conduct international transfers only through local banks rather than by phone or "hawala." The PA Attorney General and Civil Police both formed specialized units that supported enforcement of the AML law, although limited technical expertise was a constraint. The PA Interior and Waqf Ministries also continued to monitor the charitable sector for signs of abuse by terrorist organizations.

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