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Israeli Intel Finds A New Kind of Palestinian Fighter Emerging This Ramadan

Newsweek 3/29/2023 Tom O'Connor

Israeli intelligence obtained by Newsweek purports to show new links between Palestinian groups based in the Gaza Strip and those operating in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including through recently released videos instructing on how to commit acts of violence, amid the often-tense Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The clips, which have been shared without attribution by a number of social media accounts that express pro-Palestinian sentiments, provide recommendations on how to inflict maximum damage and survive encounters with security forces. They include instructions on the best places to take cover during firefights, the most efficient use of handheld explosives and deadly knife techniques.

While the acts simulated in the video suggest targets within Israel and the West Bank, an Israeli intelligence source provided Newsweek with maps showing two locations near the village of Juhor ad-Dik within the Gaza Strip bearing features that match those that appear within two of the videos.

"These videos were published on Palestinian social media accounts with the purpose of demonstrating how to commit terrorist attacks," an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) official told Newsweek. "We see that the producers of the videos tried to actually create some kind of false representation of the videos that they were filmed in a Palestinian city in Judea and Samaria, but in fact, they were filmed from within the Gaza Strip."

The third video's location could not be verified, though architecture seen in the background could potentially link the site to somewhere within the contested holy city of Jerusalem.

"From what we understand from the videos, the terrorists from the Gaza Strip are calling on the Palestinian extremists in Judea and Samaria during this period of Ramadan to go out and carry terrorist attacks against forces and Israeli civilians," the IDF official said.

And while the IDF official said the Israeli military "opposes any action of incitement and violence and in this period of religious and national holidays," the official also said that "the Ramadan period is characterized by an increase in tension and friction, mainly in the areas of Judea and Samaria and sometimes also in the Gaza Strip."

"We did see in the past videos of incitement that call to carry out terrorist attacks, but not to this extent of funding and production," the IDF official said. "This is quite new to us."

Newsweek has reached out to the Palestinian National Authority, which is in charge of parts of the West Bank, and the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, for comment.

The IDF official said it has not yet been determined who was behind the three videos in questions, though similarities in the way in which they were filmed suggest a coordinated effort.

"We can't say for certain if it was operatives in a known terrorist group or not, but we do know to say that we see that the production was with a lot of funding in it and it was very much organized ahead of time," the IDF official said.

"It doesn't seem like someone just took a camera and started filming by himself," the official added, "so we do see some kind of organizational decision to put out these videos."

The videos come amid a time of particularly heightened tensions in the region. As Israel grapples with political unrest exacerbated by a proposed law that would restrict the independence of the judiciary a year-long wave of violence continues, with a growing number of armed "lone wolf" attacks among Palestinians and Israel's Arab population.

The IDF official offered two reasons these attacks have proven different from those witnessed in previous years.

The first involved a "rise in weapons," marking "a new component" in areas where the IDF had previously faced mere "stone hurling." Some of these weapons "are smuggled through international borders and also from within Israel, but the self-manufactured ones are actually a kind of new phenomenon that we're also dealing with," according to the IDF official.

"It can even be airsoft guns that are bought on eBay and then transformed into weapons that can be used with live fire," the IDF official said.

The second major threat is marked by "more funding as well as connectivity between organizations" that are increasingly backing otherwise independent operatives.

"We see efforts by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to inflame the situation constantly and execute terrorist attacks against Israelis," the IDF official said, "also encouraging independent and unaffiliated terrorists, supporting them financially."

Each of these attacks, the IDF official argued, "also inspires other terrorist attacks in that way, and what used to be Hamas and Islamic Jihad's way of operation—they used to operate in cells and get funding, usually from the Gaza Strip—has actually now changed."

Much of this "incitement and connectivity" is playing out on social media, according to the IDF official. "So, if you needed once to be affiliated with an organization to get funding from it," the IDF official said, "these days you can just wake up in the morning, decide that you're committing a terrorist attack and you'll get the funding that you need."

"It's a very easy way to get recruits these days," the IDF official said. "You upload a video on TikTok of committing a terrorist attack, and automatically, you're out there and exposing yourself, and that's how they reach new operatives."

Israeli border guards stand outside the venue that was the scene of a shooting attack along Dizengoff Avenue in the center of Tel Aviv on March 9. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images © JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images Israeli border guards stand outside the venue that was the scene of a shooting attack along Dizengoff Avenue in the center of Tel Aviv on March 9. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

One independent group to have emerged from these conditions is the Lions' Den, operating in the West Bank and believed to be based in the city of Nablus. Taking its name from prominent Palestinian resistance figure Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, nicknamed the "Lion of Nablus," who was killed during an Israeli raid last July, the group has established a major presence on social media since emerging in August.

The purported voice of one of its senior members, Hussam Aslim, also killed during an Israeli operation that took place in Nablus last month, was featured in one of the instructional videos believed to have been filmed in the Gaza Strip.

"God will forgive none of those who betrayed us and none who sold us out dear brothers," the audio attributed to Aslim said. "For your honor, do not leave the weaponry behind, but complete the march."

"We want to see the men continuing on the same path after us," the soundbite concluded.

The Lions' Den claimed its most recent operation on Wednesday, stating on Telegram that its fighters "confronted the occupation forces' storming of the city of Nablus at dawn this day, and clashed with salvoes of blessed bullets."

The decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been marked with violence against both combatants and civilians for generations, but the death toll has approached record levels over the past year. More than 40 Israelis and 250 Palestinians have been killed since the spike began in March 2022, with unrest still brewing over an ongoing string of unpredictable Palestinian attacks, frequent IDF raids and violence perpetrated by Jewish settlers.

Factors seen exacerbating frictions include hardline policies adopted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition, as well as the deteriorating influence of the Palestinian National Authority and its ruling Fatah party over restive stretches of the West Bank. While Israel's political turmoil has stoked tensions, a lack of political movement in the Palestinian territories, where elections have not been held since a 2006 vote sparked a bitter rift between Fatah and Hamas, has also proven destabilizing.

Israeli and Palestinian officials have met over the past month in neighboring Jordan and Egypt in an attempt to promote de-escalation, but no announcements have been made to advance a long-frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The explosive situation surrounding the Temple Mount, or Al-Haram Al-Sharif, home to a number of holy sites revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, is also flaring tempers. Here, access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque has been a source of contention, as have Israeli military operations within the sacred compound, at a time when the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the week-long Passover feast were set to coincide next week.

On Tuesday, Hamas spokesperson Mohammad Hamada denounced in a statement what he called "the continued incursions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque by hordes of Israeli colonial settlers, under the protection of the Israeli occupation forces." He alleged collusion between settlers and Israeli authorities "to extend the time of their morning raids into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in a bid to impose a temporal division at the Muslim sacred compound."

"The Palestinian resistance movement emphasizes that the Israeli occupation's schemes, aimed at Judaizing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and imposing its sovereignty over it, will neither change the historical facts nor will they wipe out the mosque's Islamic identity," he said.

Though religion has traditionally been an inflammatory element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the IDF did not see faith as being the center of what appears to be an emerging generation of disaffected attackers, making it all the more difficult to intercept their plans before they are carried out.

"A lot of what characterizes these groups is that they don't have an agenda," the IDF official told Newsweek. "We used to see a religious agenda or an agenda from within their areas, against their government. These days, their only goal is to commit attacks against Israelis and against security forces."

"We don't see any structure," the IDF official added, "we don't see any hierarchy, we don't see any chain of command and it's very difficult to follow."

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