A battle of wits between the Israel Security Agency and Hamas

The arrest of a Hamas terrorist cell in the Ramallah area is a significant success for the Israel Security Agency (ISA) in its war against Hamas terror. The ISA is also known by its Hebrew title, the Shin Bet or Shabak.

A pro-Hamas rally in Ramallah. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A pro-Hamas rally in Ramallah. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The Israeli Security Agency (ISA), in collaboration with the Israel police counterterrorism unit, arrested terrorist Asem Barghouti on Jan. 8, 2019, in a successful intelligence operation. Barghouti, who perpetrated the terror attack in Givat Asaf on Dec. 13 that killed two Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers and wounded two, had been hiding in the home of an accomplice in the village of Abu Shkheidum in the Ramallah district.

Israeli Special Forces arrest Assem Barghouti on January 8, 2019.
Israeli Special Forces arrest Asem Barghouti on Jan. 8, 2019.

The arrest took Asem Barghouti by surprise; he did not even manage to use the weapon that he had on him. He was handcuffed and taken away for interrogation at an ISA installation.

This is a critical intelligence achievement because ISA caught the “spearhead” of the Hamas terror infrastructure in the Ramallah area, which relies heavily on the Barghouti clan in the village of Kobar. This branch of the family is a veteran force in the Hamas military wing and has carried out terror attacks against Israel in the past.

Brothers Salih and Asem Barghouti perpetrated terror attacks at the Ofra Junction and the Givat Asaf Junction in December 2018. Their arrest and the confiscation of the weapons they had at their disposal significantly reduces the danger of terror in the Ramallah district.

The arrest of Asem Barghouti is significant. Security sources define him as an “intelligence asset.” He is a veteran activist of the Hamas military wing, and his interrogation and that of his associates arrested with him will provide important information on the activities of Hamas sleeper cells in the areas of the West Bank directed from the “West Bank headquarters” in the Gaza Strip and the office of the military wing in Istanbul, Turkey.

These activities are run by Saleh al-Arouri, vice director of the Hamas political bureau and head of its military wing in the West Bank, through terrorists released from prisons in the 2011 Shalit prisoner-exchange deal who know the area very well.

How does Israeli intelligence work against Hamas?

The exposure of the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in the Ramallah district is an important success for ISA, which combined investigative and intelligence effort with various other means.

The intelligence “battle of wits” between ISA and Hamas continues with a clear advantage to Israel.

Hamas is under pressure from reports in Israel and the Arab media outlets about the arrest of its activists, and therefore on January 8 it rushed to publish an announcement of the “intelligence success” of its security forces in the Gaza Strip to “balance” the picture.

In the announcement, it claimed that it arrested 45 collaborators with Israel following a special operation of IDF forces in the area of Khan Yunis, Gaza, in November 2018.

Hamas interior ministry spokesman in the Gaza Strip Iyad al-Bozm claimed that Hamas security forces are hunting down additional collaborators in Gaza.

“This is a big security battle in which the Palestinian mind has the upper hand,” al Bozm claimed. “Our security forces can combat the security forces of the occupation. It’s hard for the occupation to handle collaborators in Gaza. Therefore, it brought IDF special forces into the Khan Yunis area, causing destructive results.”

Hamas is trying again to gain as much mileage as it can from the incident. Anyone with any knowledge of intelligence methods understands that this is a ridiculous claim, but this is not the place to explain why. It is important to point out that Hamas is under pressure. The organization is essentially admitting in its announcement that dozens of collaborators with Israel have been arrested, and there are still more operating in the field. Is this the “success” of the Hamas security forces that have ruled over the Gaza Strip for 12 years?

In his statement, the spokesman for the Hamas interior ministry detailed the methods that ISA uses to recruit Palestinian collaborators:

  1. Recruiting Palestinians passing through the Erez Crossing into Israel.
  2. Using young women as a honey trap to recruit Palestinians and Gaza residents through social media (mostly Facebook).
  3. Using charitable organizations to reach the weaker sectors of society in Gaza who need money and then recruiting collaborators through them.
  4. Direct financial aid. The recruitment of collaborators through financial payments for their services for Israel.

Hamas is also very troubled by the actions of the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

The security site of Hamas al-Majid reported on Jan. 7 on COGAT’s methods, claiming that it “implements the Zionist terror policies.”

In an article, it claims that COGAT assists with the closure of the crossings in the West Bank and Gaza to put pressure on the Palestinian population. Its security tactics depend on traditional methods and innovative technology.

According to the author of the article, COGAT is exploiting the needs of Palestinian citizens to travel, receive work permits, and authorizations for medical treatment, and ISA officers are recruiting Palestinian residents in their offices at the border crossings.

According to him, they are using additional intelligence methods to influence the Palestinian population in the territories:

  1. Use of COGAT. A special Israeli team analyzes the responses of Palestinian users.
  2. Cell phone (smartphone) applications to receive various authorizations. This is how ISA locates points of weakness among Palestinian residents.
  3. Operating Internet networks in waiting rooms at the border crossings. This is how ISA manages to infiltrate cell phones and their content.
  4. The use of the Telegram application to hack cell phones.
  5. Use of the future COGAT radio station to transmit messages to Palestinians. The station is supposed to open soon.

Hamas’s publication of Israel’s intelligence methods is intended to show that its security services are monitoring them and to deter the Palestinian population from collaborating with Israel.

But Hamas is battling against the wind. The harsh economic situation in the Gaza Strip and the dictatorial regime of Hamas there are specifically pushing many Palestinians to collaborate with Israel. Hamas is interested in calm at the Gaza border, but on the other hand it is trying to open a new front against Israel in the West Bank by activating sleeper cells against Jewish residents and IDF soldiers.

For this reason, the apprehension of the terrorist infrastructure of the Barghouti family in the West Bank is of great importance. It is also reasonable to assume that the investigation will lead to additional security discoveries and the thwarting of planned terror activities in the areas of Judea and Samaria.

* * *


1 Palestinian “confession” video. http://safa.ps/post/251358/

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates