Naturally, Wednesday’s reports on recently thwarted Hamas terrorist attacks highlighted the juiciest details: The way certain directives were transmitted, the agreed-upon codes, the encrypted messages. Indeed, there’s nothing like a television anchor placing a glass of water on a table or using a specific sentence to tickle the imagination about how these things happen.
The truth is that Hamas isn’t much different than other organizations that act clandestinely—from intelligence agencies to criminal and terrorist syndicates. The media was being used decades ago to transfer and receive messages and orders; spies were handled via innocuous newspaper ads, supposedly, or via encrypted messages on the TV or radio news. And terrorists used their own set of code words to encrypt their messages.
In a world where information is power, everyone understood that protecting that information was imperative.
But with all due respect to these spy games, the real story is much bigger, and that is Hamas’s unceasing motivation to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria. This is one of the organization’s main projects, and one in which it invests considerable time and money. Hundreds of terrorist attacks were thwarted in 2018, most of which were orchestrated by Hamas; and in recent weeks the signs have pointed to similar numbers in 2019.
Ever since “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002, Hamas has struggled to rehabilitate its military infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. The thwarted terrorist attacks together with intensive preemptive operations by the IDF and Shin Bet, and the fact that Hamas’s leadership in Judea and Samaria has been eradicated or imprisoned, led the organization to relocate its terrorist command outside of Judea and Samaria. Up until last year, Hamas terrorist operations were run from its headquarters abroad (simultaneously in Lebanon and Turkey, headed by Saleh Arouri, who was freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange). However, after failing to carry out major attacks from abroad, Hamas moved its headquarters to Gaza, from where, on a daily basis, it tries to orchestrate mass-casualty attacks in Judea and Samaria.
Hamas wants to achieve three things through this activity: prove it is continuing its armed resistance against Israel; exact revenge for the situation in Gaza; and undermine (albeit indirectly) the Palestinian Authority, with the intent of replacing it one day. Even Israel’s warnings that a large terrorist attack in Judea and Samaria will trigger a harsh response in Gaza haven’t deterred Hamas. The organization apparently believes it will be able to separate Judea and Samaria from Gaza, despite its experience in “Operation Protective Edge,” which began when the group abducted and murdered three Israeli teens in Judea and Samaria.
Hamas’s terrorist efforts help shape the Military Intelligence Directorate’s annual assessment. Naturally, intelligence officers are focused on Iran and the northern front (Syria, Hezbollah and Iraq, and Russia’s influence there), but they explicitly cite the instability on the Palestinian front due to the successorship battles in the Palestinian Authority and the dire situation in Gaza.
The MID warns that a conflagration in Gaza is highly probable—and the sides could spiral into a war without wanting it, among other things because of a mass-casualty attack in Judea and Samaria or anywhere else in Israel.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.