Three major Israeli counter-terror operations in a week (Aug.10-16) are a measure of the intensity of terrorist plots for the commission of mass-casualty strikes in Jerusalem.
On Aug. 10, a combined effort of the Shin Bet, the police and the IDF, led to five Palestinians from Hebron being intercepted in the Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood of El Azaria on their way to an attack. No details of this plot were released. But it was obvious that the five terrorists, armed with guns and explosives, were only stopped at the last minute from reaching the center of Jerusalem, just 15 minutes drive from El Azaria, and conducting a major attack.
Then, on Saturday, Aug. 12, a Palestinian woman knifed a man on Suleiman Street in East Jerusalem, mistaking him for a Jew. He turned out to be a local Arab Christian and was not badly hurt, before a police patrol nabbed the woman.
On Sunday, Aug. 13, a suspect was shot in the foot while resisting arrest at Bet Tsafafa, in southern Jerusalem . The police later reported they acted on a Shin Bet tipoff that the suspect, a resident of the mixed Abu Tor neighborhood, was primed for a terror operation.
On Monday, Aug. 14, indictments were filed at the Jerusalem district court against three residents of East Jerusalem on charges of plotting a shooting attack, as well as targeting police forces and persistent rock attacks on traffic - all in Jerusalem. They were also accused of planning to loose gunfire and explosive devices on vehicles using the Nablus bypass. This group therefore harbored ambitions for a widespread terrorist offensive in and outside Jerusalem.
Although Israel’s security authorities are cagey with the information they release on the mostly covert war they wage on Palestinian and Israeli Arab terror, three geographical areas may be marked out as significant: They are metropolitan Jerusalem including Bethlehem; Hebron - the city and mountain district; and the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, northeast of Tel Aviv, which was the home town of the three gunmen who shot dead two policemen on Temple Mount on July 14.
Each location occupies a special place on the terror map.
The terrorist networks of Hebron and its environs are mostly tied ideologically and operationally to the extremist Palestinian Hamas. In the past fortnight, Hamas was found to be receiving large sums of money, most of it coming from sources in the United Arab Republic in the Persian Gulf. Some of the cash was funneled to Judea and Samaria and provided those networks with an extra incentive to go into action.
Finding the UAE funding Hamas terror was somewhat of a shocker to Israel.
After all, the emirate formally joined the anti-terror coalition that US President Donald Trump created during his visit to Riyadh and later to Israel in early April.
The terrorist cells operating in Jerusalem mostly belong to Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, or its militia, the Tanzim. Most are fringe groups that are not directly associated with their leaders. But the fact that they are free to perform acts of violence against Israelis is worrying Israeli security authorities.
The networks of Umm al-Fahm and its rural villages appear to be ideologically inspired by the outlawed Northern Branch of the Israeli Arab Muslim Movement (which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood), or directly tied to the Islamic State command center in Syria.
Obviously, Israel’s sovereign presence on Temple Mount, which is holy to three monotheistic faiths and claimed by Muslims, is an abidingly explosive issue. Last month’s crisis centering on the shrine, appears to have abated - but only on the face of it. The embers of the conflagration continue to simmer under the surface of the site and the city.
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, on Wednesday threatened to “pummel” Israel if necessary.
"Hamas is not seeking a confrontation, but if such a confrontation should arise, Hamas will pummel Israel," said Sinwar, according to Yediot Aharonot.
Sinwar, whose voice has not been heard many times since his appointment as Ismail Haniyeh's replacement last February, warned Israel against "taking stupid steps against Gaza ", adding, "The Palestinian resistance has the ability to respond to that."
Sinwar also made it clear that Hamas was prepared for a confrontation and claimed that the organization's strength was greater than it was during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
"Israel is not launching a new war against Gaza, which stresses its fear of the unknown that awaits it in Gaza," he claimed.
Since the counterterrorism Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has been busily reconstructing its terror tunnel network breaching into Israeli territory.
A senior Israeli security official estimated several months ago that the terror group continues to dig 10 kilometers in tunnels leading into Israel per month.
Last week, the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) exposed significant infrastructures belonging to Hamas in Gaza, including terrorist tunnels intended to be used as hideouts for terrorists and for the transfer of weapons.
Hamas’s chief in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, said on Wednesday that his movement was not interested in a war, but added that should a conflict break out, Hamas will “crush” Israel.
“We are not seeking a confrontation with the Israelis, but if there is a confrontation, we will crush them,” Sinwar reportedly said, in his first meeting with journalists since ascending to power six months ago.
Sinwar is considered one of Hamas’s most ruthless leaders. His election as Gaza leader raised fears the terror group in control of the Strip might be more prone to enter into a conflict with Israel.
Sinwar reportedly argued during his meeting with journalists that the reason Israel is not starting a war with Gaza is “fear of the unknown that awaits it,” reported the Palestinian news site Mashreq News.
The Israeli military is currently building an above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip, aimed at countering Hamas tunnels dug into Israel to carry out attacks.
In the past, the military has expressed concerns that the construction of the barrier, which began in earnest this summer, might serve as a catalyst for renewed clashes with Hamas. The terror group sees tunnels as a central weapon in its fight against Israel and the barrier presents a threat to them.
Last week, the IDF revealed the location of two alleged Hamas tunnel sites buried underneath an apartment building and a family home in the northern Gaza Strip, and threatened to blow up both structures despite a desire to avoid civilian casualties.