The arrest of Mahmoud Mekdad, a resident of the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom who was recruited by Hamas to plant a bomb at the Bilu junction, provides evidence, and not for the first time, of the group’s efforts to carry out terrorist attacks in the heart of Israel.
This activity is covert and separate from the organization’s campaign in Gaza. While in Gaza, its policies are extremely self-restrained due to Israeli deterrence and Hamas’s aversion to another military clash—mainly in order to facilitate the Strip’s civilian rehabilitation—its brazen terrorist activity in Israel indicates a willingness to take things very far.
Hamas has amplified this effort a great deal in recent years, managing it from abroad in the wake of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, primarily via deputy leader Saleh Arouri, who was released in that deal. From its main headquarters in Turkey, Hamas has orchestrated terrorist activity in Judea and Samaria. Through the mechanism he constructed, Arouri has forged connections with Hamas activists in Judea and Samaria for the purpose of creating a localized terrorist infrastructure there.
Arouri, who has since relocated from Turkey to Qatar and then to Lebanon, was extremely ambitious in his aspirations, but quite limited in terms of his capabilities. Despite his prodigious efforts (that came with a hefty price tag), he failed to achieve his goal of “drowning Israel in blood.”
The headquarters he manages is still active in several countries, including Turkey and Lebanon, but its effectiveness is very limited in scope, mainly due to the success of the Shin Bet, which in the vast majority of cases has been able to dismantle infrastructure, apprehend terrorists and seize weapons before they are used.
Arouri’s accumulated failures spurred Hamas’ leadership in Gaza to assume control of these operations. In Gaza, too, this activity is overseen by terrorists released in the Schalit deal who were exiled to Gaza and have widespread terrorist contacts both in Judea and Samaria and among Israeli Arabs—as evidenced by the aforementioned arrest of Mekdad.
This guidance takes on many forms: from direct or encrypted directives—through various technological means (i.e., email, WhatsApp and other messaging platforms, such as Telegram in Mekdad’s case), handwritten notes delivered by couriers (family members, Palestinians receiving medical treatment in Israel and businessmen)—to exploiting innocent or susceptible individuals, including Arab Israelis with family ties in Gaza.
Hamas has turned these methods of operation into an art form. This poses a significant challenge to the Shin Bet, which since 2019 has had to deal with hundreds of attempted terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria directed from Gaza. That none of these terrorist attacks occurred is a testament to the Shin Bet’s counter-terrorism efforts. But it also indicates the scope of the threat: One attack that slips under the radar could spark a conflagration.
It’s hard not to scratch our heads over the policy guiding Hamas’s efforts to strike in the heart of Israel. One such successful attack—the abduction and murder of three teenage boys in 2014—escalated into “Operation Protective Edge.” Hamas limped away from that fight battered and bruised and deterred for years to follow, but it appears it hasn’t learned its lesson.
The latest foiled terrorist attack proves that Hamas is implementing a two-faced policy—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—that could take it down a path it doesn’t want and, as a byproduct, invite the very same devastation onto Gaza that its other policy seemingly is trying to prevent.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.