Exposure of Israel’s intelligence collection in Gaza actually undermines Hamas

The Hamas Interior Ministry has publicized the sentences of 14 people convicted of collaborating with Israel as a deterrent to Gaza residents and to highlight its “control” of the security situation.

Yahya Sinwar (left), the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with senior political leaders Khalil al-Haya (center) and Ismail Haniyeh in southern Gaza on Feb. 24, 2017. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Yahya Sinwar (left), the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with senior political leaders Khalil al-Haya (center) and Ismail Haniyeh in southern Gaza on Feb. 24, 2017. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
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.

As time goes by, it becomes clearer that Hamas is under tremendous pressure from Palestinian public opinion as a result of the exposure of special operations by Israel Defense Forces in the area of Khan Yunis on Nov. 11.

The campaign of propaganda and exaggerated psychological warfare that Hamas is waging against Israel on this issue is creating a feeling among Gaza residents that the organization has problems with intelligence, and that the Israeli intelligence services have been working in the area, right under its nose, for a long time.

Gaza residents relate that the organization’s pride was hurt when it found out about the range of intelligence operations carried out by a special unit of the IDF. Residents of Gaza are wondering where Hamas’s intelligence services are.

Why did they not take sufficient measures to prevent the infiltration of IDF soldiers into the Gaza Strip? Apparently, the soldiers in Hamas’s special force for preventing the infiltration of Gaza’s border fence with Israel did not notice any penetration by an Israeli force into the area.

It is not at all certain whether Hamas’s claim that Israeli soldiers from a special IDF force entered Gaza through the Erez checkpoint and their listening devices came through the Kerem Shalom crossing is true. Fatah sources say that Hamas is singling out the apparent “infiltration” through the border crossings with Israel to transfer the burden of responsibility from itself to the Palestinian Authority, which has stationed officers at these crossings. Hamas is hinting that the Palestinian Authority helped the IDF soldiers get into the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas Interior Ministry called a press conference on Dec. 3, to inform the Gazan public of the fate of 14 alleged collaborators with Israel, who were apprehended by the Hamas intelligence service.

These collaborators were active in Gaza between 2000 and 2017.

The purpose of the press conference was to highlight through the media that Hamas is in complete control of the Gaza Strip and it has managed to apprehend everyone spying for Israel or who has assisted Israel’s intelligence services in any way.

Iyad al-Bazam, spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, announced that his organization “will purify the Gaza Strip from all collaborators” with Israel.

“We will watch the back of the resistance. No matter who the victims are, collaborators need to understand that the Israeli occupation can’t protect them, and the hand of justice and the law will reach them wherever they are!” he declared.

The announcement from the Interior Ministry stressed that collaborators with Israel committed severe crimes and gave away valuable information that enabled Israel to strike important Hamas targets, killing the organization’s operatives.

At the press conference, details were given about six alleged collaborators with Israel, who were sentenced to death by firing squad and hanging. Another eight collaborators were sentenced to prison terms of 15 to 16 years with hard labor.

The objectives of ISA’s actions

The material that the Hamas Interior Ministry publicized about  discovery of the activities of collaborators with Israel indicates what the ISA was interested in and what the objectives of its acquisition of intelligence information were:

  1. Tunnels;
  2. Storage areas of rockets and their launch sites;
  3. Operatives of the Hamas military wing and its commanders, their places of residence, the vehicles they drive, their cell-phone numbers and the constant activities in which they are involved;
  4. The operations and bases of Hamas naval commandos;
  5. The place of residence of Mazen Fuqaha, one of the senior officers of the military wing;
  6. The identity of senior fishermen in the Gaza Strip.

Recruitment methods and activity

From the material released, it emerges that the collaborators were recruited to the ISA through Facebook or telephone calls from Israel.

Initial telephone contact was made by Arabic-speaking women, who were on the other end of the line. In one particular example, the caller identified herself as an employee of a charitable organization. In other case, she said she was a lawyer working for an import-export firm.

The collaborators received their missions over the telephone, using a SIM card from the Orange cell-phone company that they had been given. They carried out their missions in exchange for financial payment that they received at drop-off points determined in advance and to which they were instructed to go.

The collaborator who fled to Israel

The notice from the Hamas Interior Ministry includes an admission that one of the collaborators managed to flee to Israel from the Gaza Strip. He was a man named “Adham,” who was recruited to ISA in 2008 by his aunt, an Israeli Arab with Israeli citizenship.

The aunt, named Amal, aged 55, has been sentenced in her absence to death by hanging.

The purpose of the release of this information by the Hamas Interior Ministry is to show Gaza residents that it has full control over the security situation, and also to deter residents from joining the ISA by imposing serious penalties.

However, this specific information attests that the ISA is working efficiently in a sophisticated manner in the Gaza Strip, and it has managed to recruit collaborators who provide it with important information. The recruitment and activation of these agents is done from a distance, over the border, without ISA handlers putting themselves in danger.

It is not clear how long Hamas intends to continue to use its exaggerated psychological warfare against Israel as a means to exonerate itself from its failures. It is necessary to remember that the IDF special force that operated in the Khan Yunis area was exposed by chance and not through the counter-intelligence activities of Hamas.

Gaza residents are already used to hearing Hamas’s explanations and excuses, and they are no longer interested in them. From the voices heard among the Palestinian public, it would be better if Hamas put a stop to this psychological warfare. It needs to find another way to revive its credibility because it has already “squeezed the lemon to its last drop,” and the subject has become trite and boring.

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 opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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