JERUSALEM – Amid a series of growing threats from al Qaeda-affiliated terror organizations in the region and freelance Palestinian and Islamic cyber militias trying to steal top-secret information from Israeli government websites, Israel’s military has beefed up its physical presence along the nation’s borders and increased cyber counter-intelligence operations.
The redeployment of forces follows a failed al Qaeda plan to simultaneously blow up the Jerusalem Convention Center and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Israeli security forces thwarted the would-be attacks several weeks ago. Several of the alleged al Qaeda operatives were said to have come from East Jerusalem, whose Arab residents possess blue Israeli identity cards and are thus able to move around the country freely.
Though the U.S. State Department has tried to downplay the threat to the embassy, the Times of Israel and Israel’s Channel 10 News reported that Israeli security forces broke up the operation after the terrorists gathered explosive materials and began to accelerate their plans to launch attacks. Other targets included a bus bombing in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
Last week, meanwhile, al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists fired several missiles at Eilat from the northern Sinai. According to the Egyptian military, which is waging an ongoing battle against various jihadist terror groups – including al Qaeda in Sinai and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – Hamas is operating underground tunnels between Gaza and Sinai for the purpose of smuggling various terror groups to and from the area.
The Egyptian strongman, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has openly threatened Hamas’s leadership in Gaza with a military invasion if Hamas continues its smuggling operations and its open support for the Muslim Brotherhood. At least three IDF Iron Dome anti-missile batteries have been deployed in three southern Israeli cities, including Eilat.
Due to the number of al Qaeda and Sunni jihadist fighters who have crossed the border from Iraq into Syria to battle President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite and Hizbullah’s Shiite forces, IDF commanders have had to reassess their military and political strategies in the north.
Over the past year, Israeli intelligence operatives working unofficially with the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army discovered that Assad’s opponents were being overrun and supplanted by a number of radical Islamist and al Qaeda groups.
A senior IDF official told the Associated Press earlier this week that the number of al Qaeda terrorists operating in Syria had grown from 2,000 to 30,000 during the past year. This is raising concerns that the jihadists are preparing the groundwork to attack northern Israel after they defeat pro-Assad and Hizbullah forces. Some al Qaeda groups have already positioned terrorists along the Golan Heights.
Al Qaeda units have also crossed into Lebanon, attacking Hizbullah forces in Tripoli and Beirut. Israeli, European and American intelligence agencies have acknowledged that al Qaeda has been able to successfully recruit jihadist fighters and suicide bombers from European and American cities.
Sources report that some of these battle-hardened terrorists, who hold European or American citizenship, have been sent back to the U.S. and Europe to prepare for future attacks. This may account for the increased security preparations in the New York area ahead of this Sunday’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
On the cyber front, Yediot Aharonot reported on Tuesday that a Gaza-based Palestinian cyber militia successfully hacked into a Ministry of Defense computer, which allegedly contained sensitive information about “issuing entry permits to Palestinians in the territories.”