Country Report on Terrorism 2012 - Chapter 2 - Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Overview: Israel continued to be a stalwart counterterrorism partner in 2012. It faced continued terrorist threats from Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), particularly from Gaza but also from the West Bank; and from Hizballah in Lebanon. Fourteen Israelis were killed as a result of terrorist attacks in 2012. Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations continued rocket and mortar attacks into Israeli territory, and multiple terrorist attacks were launched along the Gaza security fence as well as the Israel-Egypt border. Gaza also remained a base of operations for several violent Islamist extremist splinter groups. The Government of Israel responded to these threats with operations directed at terrorist leaders, infrastructure, and activities such as rocket launching, most notably in Operation Pillar of Defense during the November 14-21 Gaza conflict.

A Hamas and PIJ-linked terrorist cell based in the West Bank also carried out a bombing on a Tel Aviv city bus, the first such attack in years, and Israel faced a wave of plots and attacks against its interests abroad that Israeli officials linked to Iran and Hizballah. Arms smuggling continued from Iran through Egypt into Gaza to Palestinian terrorist organizations. Israeli officials also continued to be concerned about the smuggling of weapons from Libya via Sudan into Gaza.

Israel was hit by a record volume of rocket fire from Gaza in 2012. The rocket attacks demonstrated technological advancements, and Gaza militants for the first time used longer-range rockets to target major Israeli population centers in the greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. Israeli experts maintained that militants successfully smuggled long-range rockets from the Sinai Peninsula through tunnels into Gaza, and subsequently began producing rockets in Gaza. Israeli counterterrorism officials said Gaza militants made significant quantitative and qualitative advances in capabilities in the four years since Operation Cast Lead. Before Cast Lead, Israeli officials estimated that Gaza militants had 1,000 rockets with ranges up to 25 kilometers (km); at the start of Pillar of Defense, stockpiles had increased to approximately 6,000, with ranges up to 80 km. During this period, Gaza militants also developed the ability to employ dual-use materials smuggled into Gaza to manufacture the M-75 rocket, which was used twice for longer-range strikes against Israel during Pillar of Defense. The Israeli government continued to hold Hamas, as the dominant organization in effective control of Gaza, responsible for the attacks emanating from Gaza, and Israeli officials pointed to these attacks as proof that Hamas has not abandoned terrorism. In the aftermath of the Gaza escalation, Israel is seeking enhanced cooperation with regional partners and the international community to effectively counter arms smuggling in the region.

On the Northern Border, Israeli security officials remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel from Hizballah and its Iranian patron, arguing that Iran, primarily through the efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, continued to transfer arms to Hizballah in Lebanon. Also, in light of the unrest in Syria, Israeli officials were concerned about proliferation of conventional and non-conventional weapons from Syria to terrorist organizations. Israeli politicians and security officials pointed to Hizballah's efforts to rebuild and re-arm following the 2006 Lebanon War as evidence that the group remained a threat to Israel. According to the Government of Israel, Hizballah has stockpiled 50,000 missiles in Lebanon, some of which are capable of striking anywhere in Israel, including population centers.

A series of terrorist attacks and foiled plots against Israeli interests abroad that began in 2011 continued in 2012. Though most of these plots were disrupted, a July 18 suicide attack against Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, killed five Israeli citizens and one Bulgarian and injured dozens, and a February 13 attack in New Delhi injured the wife of an Israeli Ministry of Defense employee. Terrorist plots were also uncovered against Israeli targets in Thailand, Azerbaijan, and Cyprus, and an attack was foiled in Georgia. Israeli officials publicly linked many of these plots and attacks to Hizballah and its Iranian sponsors. [On February 5, 2013, the Bulgarian government publically implicated Hizballah in the July 2012 Burgas bombing that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian citizen, and injured 32 others. On March 21, 2013, a Cyprus court found a Hizballah operative guilty of charges stemming from his surveillance activities, carried out in 2012, of Israeli tourist targets, while Thailand was prosecuting a Hizballah member for his role in helping plan a possible terrorist attack in that country.]

2012 Terrorist Incidents: Incidents included rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, a bus bombing, attacks along the Gaza security fence, and cross-border attacks from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Rocket and mortar fire emanating from Gaza was the most prevalent form of attack by Palestinian terrorist organizations. Israel experienced major escalations in rocket attacks in March, June, October, and November. According to figures released by the Israel Security Agency (ISA), as of the end of November, a total of 2,331 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel in the course of 2012, up from the previous peak of approximately 2,000 in 2008. In addition, 224 mortar shells were launched toward Israel. Following attacks from Gaza, Israeli forces targeted sites used by terrorists to launch indirect-fire attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces. In addition, Israel faced terrorist threats abroad, including attacks that were carried out in Bulgaria and India, and at least five plots or attempted attacks in other countries. Please see the country reports for Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, India, Kenya, and Thailand in this chapter for information on attacks against Israeli citizens.

Between November 14 and 21, some 1,814 rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza toward Israel. The bulk of incoming fire targeted communities in the South, but some longer-range rockets were fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem area for the first time. Although most of these landed in open areas or were intercepted, one rocket struck a residential building in the Tel Aviv suburb Rishon Lezion, causing extensive damage. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted 421 rockets during the operation, successfully engaging approximately 85 percent of rockets targeted for interception.

Despite Iron Dome and other civil defense efforts, incoming rocket and mortar fire resulted in the deaths of six Israelis and significant property damage. On November 15, three people were killed in a direct rocket hit on an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi. On November 20, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli civilian were killed by mortar fire in the Eshkol Regional Council. On November 22, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserve officer died of wounds suffered in a November 21 rocket attack from Gaza.

On November 21, a bomb exploded in a city bus in central Tel Aviv, near the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense, wounding 26 Israeli civilians. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhiri praised the bombing. In December, the ISA announced that it arrested the perpetrators of the attack, who it said were members of a Ramallah-area-based terrorist cell consisting of Hamas and PIJ-affiliated operatives. According to the ISA, the cell was led by Ahmed Salah Ahmed Musa, a Hamas operative who was responsible for intelligence collection, production of the improvised explosive device (IED), and recruiting the individual who planted the IED and remotely activated it. Muhammad Abed Al Jfar Nasser Mfarja, an Israeli citizen, was recruited to Hamas by Musa, and planted the IED on the bus. The ISA described Fuad Rabach Sucry Azai as a PIJ operative who provided Musa with a handgun and ammunition and attempted to provide him with an M-16 rifle. Prior to the attack, Musa requested the assistance of another Hamas operative, Muhammad Mahpod Said Damara, who reportedly admitted the possession of a rifle that was to be used during the attack. On December 19, the Tel Aviv District Advocate filed an indictment in the Tel Aviv District Court against Mfarja; indictments against the remaining operatives were expected to follow.

Incidents along the Gaza security fence included:

• On May 1, IDF soldiers came under fire near the security fence in central Gaza; two armored vehicles were damaged.

• On June 1, an Israeli soldier was killed when a terrorist attempting to enter Israel from southern Gaza opened fire on IDF soldiers.

• On October 23, an IDF officer was injured in an IED attack on the Gaza border. Israel subsequently uncovered additional explosive devices near the security fence, and on November 9, an “explosive tunnel” on the Gaza border detonated during an operational activity by the IDF.

• On November 10, an anti-tank missile was fired at an IDF patrol along the security fence in northern Gaza, injuring four Israeli soldiers.

Incidents on the Israel-Egypt border included:

• In February, an IDF team found an explosive device with a remote trigger along the portion of the Israel-Egypt border known as the Philadelphi Corridor.

• In a June 18 cross-border attack from Egypt, militants detonated a roadside bomb and fired anti-tank rockets and live ammunition at two Israeli vehicles. An Israeli civilian working on the Israel-Egypt border fence was killed, and two others were wounded.

• On August 5, terrorists identified by the IDF as a global terrorist cell operating in the Sinai stormed an Egyptian military post near Rafah, killing 16 Egyptian soldiers and border guards and capturing an armored personnel carrier (APC) and a truck filled with explosives. The truck exploded at the Israel-Egypt border, and the APC entered Israeli territory near Kerem Shalom with four attackers inside, where it was targeted by the Israel Air Force. The attack came shortly after a mortar barrage from Gaza pounded the Kerem Shalom border crossing in Israel, and rockets were fired at adjacent towns.

Hizballah-linked incidents included:

• According to the ISA, in early June, Hizballah smuggled 20 kilograms of C-4 explosive and an IED detonation system into Israel from Lebanon, using a network of narcotics dealers. Weapons were also seized as part of a joint ISA-Israel National Police operation that exposed the scheme. Twelve suspects were detained and questioned, and charges were filed against eight.

• On October 6, the IAF shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that entered Israeli airspace, and the IDF posted a video clip of the interception online. According to press, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in televised remarks on October 11, acknowledged that the group had sent the drone, and claimed its parts were manufactured in Iran and assembled by Hizballah in Lebanon.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: On December 2, the Cabinet declared the following entities to be terrorist organizations, pursuant to Article 8 of the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. Israeli counterterrorism officials indicated that each of these entities was already subject to counterterrorism sanctions prior to this decision, which was intended to reinforce existing measures and enhance enforcement.

• The al-Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards;

• The Change and Reform List or al-Atzlach v’al-Tajair;

• The Charity Coalition (Atlaf Alchayir);

• The Iranian (or) Palestinian Humanity Support and Coordination Staff, the Popular Committee for Support of the Palestinian People, and the Iranian Popular Committee for Support of the Palestinian Intifada;

• The al-Qods Institution and al-Qods International Institution;

• The Palestinian and Lebanese Families Welfare Trust;

• The Popular Resistance Committees and its military arm, the Saladin Brigade;

• The IHH (“Insan Haklary ve Hurriyetleri”), Vakfi International Humanitarian Relief Organization, “Internationale Humanitere Hilfsorganisation.”

On the law enforcement front, the ISA and Israel National Police (INP) continued to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies on cases involving U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks, as well as other counterterrorism initiatives of mutual interest.

Countering Terrorist Finance: Israel had active observer status in Moneyval, the Council of Europe's Select Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money-laundering Measures, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The Israeli Financial Intelligence Unit, known as the Israeli Money-Laundering and Terror Finance Prohibition Authority, is a member of the Egmont Group. Israel's counterterrorist finance regime continued to be enhanced through enforcement operations and the inclusion of new groups under national terrorist finance laws; the well-regulated Israeli banking industry worked to address suspected terrorist activity. Financing of Hamas through charitable organizations remained a concern for Israeli authorities, as did the funding of Hizballah through charities and criminal organizations. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Regional and International Cooperation: Israel continued its counterterrorism cooperation with a range of regional and international institutions, including the UN, the OAS, and the OSCE. Israel conducted strategic dialogues that included counterterrorism discussions with the United States, Canada, Russia, the UK, France, Germany Italy, and the EU. Israel continued to cooperate with the OAS Inter-American Committee against Terrorism to assist Latin American states with counterterrorism efforts. Israel also deepened its cooperation with the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force. As a member of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, Israel continued to explore ways to enhance cooperation on counterterrorism with Central Asian states. Israel also engaged with the EU on transportation and aviation security efforts and sought to deepen its counterterrorism cooperation with NATO.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents, property, and places of worship in the West Bank continued, and several were condemned by senior Israeli officials as acts of terrorism. Following the evacuation of the Migron outpost and subsequent desecration of the Latrun Monastery in September, Minister of Internal Security Aharonovitch, according to local media, announced the establishment of a new police unit to counter settler violence and called for a “zero tolerance policy against terror, the desecration of religious institutions, attacks on symbols of governance, and attacks commonly known as ‘price tag.’”

West Bank and Gaza

The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank. Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) remained present in the West Bank, although the improved capacity of Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) constrained those organizations' ability to carry out attacks. The IDF continued arresting members of terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank. Gaza continued to be administered by Hamas; and Hamas, PIJ and Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) launched attacks against Israel from Gaza.

Palestinian militants initiated attacks against Israelis inside the West Bank and Israel. Attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents, property, and places of worship in the West Bank continued and were largely unprosecuted, according to UN and NGO sources. The ISA reported a total of more than 750 of what it defined as terrorist attacks originating in the West Bank against Israeli citizens from January through November. Of these, more than 700 involved firebombs; but the attacks also included shootings, stabbings, grenade and IED incidents, and rock throwing. According to Israeli authorities, despite continued violence, for the first time since 1973, an entire year passed without an Israeli fatality from a terrorist attack in the West Bank.

The primary PASF services operating in the West Bank were the Palestinian Civil Police, the National Security Force (NSF), the Preventive Security Organization, the General Intelligence Service, the Presidential Guard, the Military Intelligence Service, and the Civil Defense. Based on available payroll numbers, PASF forces in the West Bank numbered approximately 29,000. Much of the PASF were under the Interior Minister’s operational control and followed the Prime Minister’s guidance, while others reported directly to the PA president. Israeli authorities, among others, noted continuing improvements in the capacity and performance of PASF as a leading contributor to the improved security environment in the West Bank and a dramatic reduction in terrorist incidents in and emanating from the West Bank over the past six years. The United States continued to assist the PA's counterterrorism efforts through capacity building programs for PA security forces, which included training, equipping, and provision of infrastructure to PASF personnel in the West Bank. U.S.-funded training of PASF also took place in Jordan at the Jordan International Police Training Center, and at the Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II Academy of Civil Protection in Jordan.

Hamas continued to consolidate its control over Gaza, eliminating or marginalizing potential rivals. Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza smuggled weapons, cash, and other contraband into Gaza through an extensive network of tunnels from Egypt. Gaza remained a base of operations for several violent extremist splinter groups, such as Tawhid wa Jihad and the Mujahedin Shura Council; and clan-based criminal groups that engaged in or facilitated terrorist attacks.

During the year, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad consistently reiterated their commitment to nonviolence and recognition of the State of Israel. They continued to support a security program involving disarmament of fugitive militants, arresting members of terrorist organizations, and gradually dismantling armed groups in the West Bank.

In August, six Palestinians were wounded after a fire bomb was thrown at their vehicle near the West Bank settlement of Bayt Ayin, and two Israeli settlers, both minors, were arrested by Israeli authorities in connection with the crime. Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon described the incident as a hate crime and a terrorist act. In July, UN officials and several local NGOs issued a statement noting that Israeli settler violence against Palestinians had risen sharply, by nearly 150 percent since 2009. More than 90 percent of the complaints filed against settlers in recent years have not been addressed, according to the UN. In 2011, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak labeled settler acts as having “the characteristic of homegrown terror;” several months earlier, IDF Head of Central Command Avi Mizrahi labeled attacks against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank as “terror” and ordered the administrative deportation of a dozen Israeli settlers from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. In 2012, four mosques in the West Bank, and five churches in the West Bank and Jerusalem were vandalized in apparent “price tag” attacks carried out by Israeli settlers in retribution for Israeli government actions they perceived as against their interests.

There were multiple acts of violence conducted by different sub-state actors in the West Bank, both Palestinian and Israeli, and Gaza-based militants attacked Israel. Attacks included:

• In March, a 19-year-old female IDF soldier was stabbed while riding the Jerusalem light rail in a suspected terrorist attack.

• On March 31, four Palestinians were hospitalized after they were attacked by Israeli settlers near the Mikhmas junction outside Ramallah.

• On June 19, settlers reportedly set fire to the main mosque in the West Bank village of Jabaa in Ramallah governorate.

• On August 22, 17 year-old Palestinian Jamal Julani was beaten into an unconscious state by a group of Israeli teenagers reportedly yelling racist slurs in Zion Square in Jerusalem. Israeli vice premier Moshe Ya’alon condemned the incident as a terrorist attack.

• On September 4, pro-settler vandals thought to be participating in a “price tag attack” set fire to the entrance door of the Latrun Monastery outside of Jerusalem, spray-painting the names of West Bank outposts and "Jesus is a monkey.”

The PASF detained terrorists in the West Bank and PA authorities tried some detainees in civilian and military courts. Despite factional reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, PASF personnel continued to detain Hamas elements in operations often protested by Hamas officials.

• In February, after the PASF arrested several high profile Hamas members in the West Bank, Hamas released a statement demanding that Fatah stop its “irresponsible” acts.

• In May, according to press reports, Israel’s Shin Bet published a report saying that it had intercepted and broken up three militant cells in Hebron City.

• In June, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denounced what he called an “arrest campaign” against Hamas activists in Halhoul and Hebron. Hamas media sites reported that PASF personnel summoned nearly two dozen Hamas members for interrogation.

• In September, PASF discovered and seized an underground bunker used by Hamas members in the northern West Bank village of Urif reportedly being prepared as a place to hide a kidnapped IDF soldier or Israeli settler.

• In late September, Hamas officials issued a statement saying that the PASF had arrested its supporters who reportedly participated in “violent riots” against the PA during protests against economic conditions in the West Bank. In total, Hamas claimed that the PASF arrested 184 of its members in September.

• In October, the PASF confiscated documents and weapons belonging to Hamas in a residential area of Nablus.

• On December 3, West Bank Hamas official Rafat Nasif said publicly that the PASF continued its political arrests “despite the talk about reconciliation.”

No 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.

The primary limitation on PA counterterrorism efforts in Gaza remained Hamas’ continued control of the area and the resulting inability of PASF to operate there. Limitations on PA counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank included restrictions on the movement and activities of PASF in and through areas of the West Bank for which the Israeli government retained responsibility for security under the terms of Oslo-era agreements. The limited capacity of the PA’s civilian criminal justice system also hampered PA counterterrorism efforts.

The PA continued to lack modern forensic capability. In late 2012, the Canadian International Development Agency, through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, began project activity on a multi-year project to initiate forensic criminal capacity within Palestinian law enforcement.

U.S. efforts to train and equip the PASF have provided them with new tools to enforce law and order and counter terrorism. U.S.-trained NSF special battalions have been instrumental in ongoing PASF law and order and anti-terror efforts since 2008, and security campaigns designed to root out terrorist and criminal elements across the West Bank have been widely praised for improving security and returning normalcy to major West Bank urban areas. In January and February 2012, the PASF successfully conducted their first operations since 1997 in the Israeli controlled H2 section of downtown Hebron City, and arrested several dozen suspected criminals. U.S-trained PASF maintained public order in 2012 during Palestinian demonstrations surrounding the anniversary of Israeli Independence known as “Nakba Day.”

The PA continued to increase its capacity to combat illicit finance. Terrorist financing is not specifically addressed in current law, but the PA is drafting appropriate legislation and can prosecute terrorism-related offenses, such as financing, under current laws. The Palestinian Financial Intelligence Unit, known as the Financial Follow-up Unit, added additional staff and continued building its technical capacity while conducting outreach to other parts of the PA on anti-money laundering/countering terrorist finance. The PA, an observer to the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, submitted its application for membership and was given an action plan for attaining membership. The banking sector in Gaza continued to repel Hamas attempts to influence and tax the sector. The PA Interior and Awqaf and Religious Affairs Ministries monitored the charitable sector for signs of abuse by terrorist organizations.

According to the PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct, no programming is allowed that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.” The PA continued its efforts to monitor and control the content of Friday sermons delivered in over 1,800 West Bank mosques to ensure that they do not endorse or incite violence. The PA’s ability to enforce these guidelines varies depending upon its location, and it has limited authority to control the context of sermons in Israeli-controlled Area C.