Country Report on Terrorism 2020 - Chapter 1 - Israel, West Bank, and Gaza - Israel

Overview:  Israel remained a committed counterterrorism partner, closely coordinating with the United States on a range of counterterrorism initiatives.  Owing to COVID-19, Israel and the United States held numerous interagency counterterrorism dialogues virtually to discuss and collaborate on regional threats.  Counterterrorism issues were also at the center of the agenda during numerous high-level U.S. visits to Israel.

Israel faced threats from the North from Hizballah and along the northeastern frontier from Hizballah and other Iran-backed groups, including as many as 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, according to some Israeli estimates.  Israeli officials expressed concern that Iran was supplying Hizballah with advanced weapons systems and technologies, including precision-guided missiles.  This concern included Iran’s work to assist Hizballah and other proxies in indigenously producing rockets, missiles, and drones.

To the South, Israel faced threats from terrorist organizations including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and ISIS-Sinai Province.  Rocket attacks originating from Gaza resulted in several injuries and property damage.  There were sporadic attempts to infiltrate Israel from Gaza by armed militants, none of which resulted in Israeli casualties.  Other sources of terrorist threats included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and lone-actor attacks.

2020 Terrorist Incidents:  In December, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said 2020 registered the lowest number of Israelis killed by terrorism in the country’s history.  Nonetheless, Israel still experienced terrorist attacks involving weapons ranging from rockets and mortars to vehicular attacks, small arms, and knives.  The following is a representative list of IDF-announced terrorist and ethno-religious attacks:

  • In February, Palestinian Sanad at-Turman carried out a ramming attack against IDF soldiers in Jerusalem, injuring 12.
  • In April, on the national Memorial Day for Israeli victims of terrorism, a 20-year-old Palestinian stabbed a 62-year-old Israeli woman in Kfar Saba.  The assailant was shot by a bystander and was hospitalized in serious condition; the victim was hospitalized in moderate condition.
  • In August a 23-year-old Palestinian man from Jenin stabbed a Rosh Ha’ayin man 20 times, leaving him in serious condition.
  • Hamas and other terrorist groups including the PIJ launched more than 175 rockets and more than 150 incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel, some of which landed in civilian areas.  Iron Dome, Israel’s air defense system, intercepted many of the rockets.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  Israel has a robust legal framework to combat terrorism and promote international legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists.  For a portion of 2020, the Palestinian Authority (PA) suspended security coordination with Israel; for details, see “The West Bank and Gaza” section below.  Israeli security forces took numerous significant law enforcement actions against suspected terrorists and terrorist groups, including the following:

  • On April 7, Israeli law enforcement arrested an Israeli Arab citizen, Ayman Haj Yahya, for allegedly collaborating with Iranian intelligence and with a PFLP operative.  Israeli authorities assert that Yahya received funding, training, and instructions to establish a terrorist cell.
  • In April, Israeli authorities discovered and thwarted planned IED attacks at a soccer stadium in Jerusalem and against IDF vehicles and posts near Ramallah by a Hamas cell from Bir Zeit University.
  • In September the Israeli Security Agency arrested an East Jerusalem woman, Yasmin Jaber, for allegedly heading a cell to recruit Israelis and Palestinians for IRGC-QF and Hizballah.
  • In October, Israel’s General Security Service arrested two minors in Beit Umar near Hebron in connection with allegations that Hamas had recruited them for terrorism.  Israeli authorities assert that they had received from Hamas weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and money for West Bank attacks.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Israel is a member of FATF and the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.  FIU, the Israeli Money Laundering and Terror Finance Prohibition Authority, is a member of the Egmont Group.

The 2019 Israeli Deduction Law requires the Ministry of Finance to withhold from its monthly tax revenue transfers to the PA the amounts Israel estimates the PA pays to Palestinians connected to terrorism, including to the families of terrorists who died in attacks.  The PA calls these prisoner and “martyr” payments, and argues they are social payments for families who have lost their primary breadwinner.  The United States and Israel argue the payments incentivize and reward terrorism, particularly given the higher monthly payments the longer an individual remains imprisoned, which corresponds to more severe crimes.  Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Israeli security cabinet did not approve the 2019 prisoner/martyr report until November.

In May, some Palestinian banks closed relevant prisoner and “martyr” payment accounts for fear of criminal liability resulting from an Israeli military order extending such liability to banks facilitating payment transfers, though the Israeli government later suspended the order’s implementation until the end of the year.  In October, Defense Minister Gantz signed an order confiscating an undetermined sum (described in the media as “hundreds of thousands of new Israeli shekels”) that Hamas and the PA had sent a group of “martyr” families inside Israel.  In December, after the PA announced a resumption of cooperation with Israel, the Israeli government transferred all pending tax revenue to the PA but declared it would deduct $184 million for prisoner and martyr payments, to be prorated monthly in the coming year.

Countering Violent Extremism:  Although the COVID-19 pandemic constrained activities during the year, the Israeli government continued work on its “City Without Violence” and “Israeli Hope” initiatives.  The Ministry of Community Empowerment adopted City Without Violence and widened the scope of the program to more municipalities, with additional tools in different fields to counter violence and crime.  The Ministry of Community Empowerment also supported and funded Israel’s national community-based prevention initiative, “The Israeli Authority for Community Safety,” in collaboration with the Israeli National Police.  More than 250 municipalities implemented community, education, and social welfare projects to counter violence, crime, and substance misuse.  The Community Safety Authorities’ principles include prevention and health promotion, local capabilities, and community engagement.

The Office of the President expanded its work on Israeli Hope programs and activities to develop and reinforce the partnership between various sectors of society, in areas such as education, academia, employment, sports, and local government.  It did this in partnership with four population sectors:  secular, modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), and Arab.  Israeli Hope in Education and Israeli Hope in Academia encourage a more diverse and equitable higher education system, to prepare graduates for life in a society valuing coexistence and partnership.  Israeli Hope in Employment concentrates on promoting employment diversity, representation, and cultural competence, placing emphasis on integrating the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs into the economy.  The Israeli Hope in Sports program aims to encourage tolerance and seeking an end to violence and racism.  In each area, the program attempts to create meaningful and broad cooperative efforts between individuals and public organizations, and in the private and the volunteer sectors in efforts to promote understanding and tolerance.

International and Regional Cooperation:  In May, Israeli officials told reporters that Israel had provided sufficient intelligence to Germany regarding Hizballah’s activities on German soil to influence Germany’s decision to take further action against Hizballah.  This was the latest in a series of collaborative counterterrorism efforts between Israeli intelligence services and their partners in Europe and Australia over the past several years.  Israeli officials credited these efforts for successfully thwarting terrorist attacks by ISIS, Hizballah, and other violent extremist groups.