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The Growing Islamic State threat to Israel: A Clear and Present Danger

Attention has been  brought to bear by recent activities on Israel’s northern and southern frontier by ISIS in Syria and the Salafist affiliate in the Sinai, Ansar Beit al-Makdas (ABAM).  That is independent of the alleged ABAM involvement in the downing of the Russian Metrojet Airbus 321 on October 31, 2015 with a bomb secreted aboard the aircraft that killed 224 passengers and crew in the Sinai.

While ISIS allegedly fears only the Israeli Defense Force, at issue is Israel prepared to deal with these threats on both its Northern and Southern Frontiers.

Moreover, what the U.S. can do given its virtual abandonment of an alliance with Egypt, Israel and neighboring Jordan that collectively face the emboldened  self-declared Islamic State (IS). An Islamic state that has demonstrated its long arm reach planning and fomenting barbarous  terrorism in the Middle East, Europe and even here in the U.S. In the final days of 2015.

Note this Fox/Nation/Townhall  report by a former German Parliament member, now intrepid journalist,  Jürgen Todenhöfer, who with his son spent 10 days in the occupied  Syrian and Iraqi  precincts of the self-declared Caliphate, the Islamic State (ISIS), “Israel Defense Force only Army ISIS Fears”:

German reporter Jurgen Todenhofer went behind enemy lines to spend ten days with the Islamic State. He went with his son, Frederic, but not after spending nearly half a year ensuring that his safety would be guaranteed before venturing into this perilous region of the world. He plans on never going back (good idea), but noted that the only army these Islamic fanatics truly fear is the Israel Defense Forces.

They are confident that they can defeat soldiers from the West, namely British and American troops, but noted that the Israelis might be too tough for them. An aspect of their strategy is to lure Western troops into their territory in order to capture them. Oh, and they plan on killing every Shiite Muslim they can find, and view Muslims living in Western countries who vote as “top-priority enemies…as they give people rather than God the right to make laws.”

The claim from German reporter Jürgen Todenhöfer, a former member of the German Parliament, came after he spent 10 extraordinary days behind enemy lines in Iraq and Syria, accompanied by his son Frederic. He returned saying the group behind the Paris attacks was “preparing the largest religious cleansing in history” and with a “pessimistic” view on what can be done to combat it.

But the author of My 10 Days in the Islamic State told Jewish News: “The only country ISIS fears is Israel. They told me they know the Israeli army is too strong for them.”

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot

From left: Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, Galilee Division Commander Brig. Gen. Amir Baram, and GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi on the northern border, Wednesday  Source: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Today’s Israel Hayom edition had a follow up story about IDF preparing for possible ISUS attacks on the Golan Frontier, “IDF braces for Islamic State attack on northern border:”

Army on high alert for possible terrorist attacks by Shuhada al-Yarmouk Brigades, affiliated with Islamic State, or other jihadist groups such as Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaida.

[…]

Based on the modus operandi of the Nusra Front and Islamic State, the Israel Defense Forces examined several possible ways these groups could act against Israel. One scenario for an attack, according to the assessments, is smuggling explosives-laden vehicles into Israel. Additionally, officials were not negating the possibility of a terrorist ground force infiltrating Israel, firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli targets, planting explosive devices and launching rockets.

The Shuhada al-Yarmouk Brigades controls the border area shared by Jordan, Israel and Syria, extending over around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). According to estimates, the organization comprises some 600 fighters who impose their will on some 40,000 locals. The organization itself is surrounded by numerous other rebel groups with which it is fighting, including the Nusra Front, and is “besieged” in a type of enclave in the southern Syrian Golan Heights.

ABAM  ISIS affiliates beheading “Israeli spies” in Sinai

ABAM  ISIS affiliates beheading “Israeli spies” in Sinai.

However, Israel’s  Northern Frontier is not the only threat from ISIS.  Dr. Ronen Bergman, intelligence columnist for Israeli daily Yediot Ahranoth  had an extensive investigative article on the ISIS  affiliate, threat on the Southern Sinai frontier with Egypt, Ansar Beit al-Makdas (ABAM), “The Battle Over Sinai: ISIS’s Next Strong Force:

As the world’s eyes are focused on the Islamic State in Syria and its activity in Europe, the organization’s branch in Sinai – Ansar Bait al-Maqdis – is gaining strength, and the Russian plane bombing may be just the beginning of its integration into ISIS’s international war. Bergman outlines the profile of one of the most threatening and intriguing challenges faced by the Israeli and international security community, only a few kilometers south of Eilat.

[…]

The Russian plane crash in Sinai on October 31st, which left 224 people dead, is still preoccupying intelligence organizations around the world. Updated intelligence received by Western intelligence agencies reveals that the few days before the attack saw a significant increase in the volume of written and spoken communication between senior members of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABAM – “Supporters of the Holy House”) terror organization, which has been calling itself Sinai Province in the past year after swearing allegiance to the Islamic State, who are active in the Sheikh Zuweid area in the northern part of the peninsula.

In addition, there has been a sharp increase in volume of communication between these activists and elements affiliated with ISIS’s Security and Intelligence Council in Iraq and Syria. This body is responsible for ISIS’s most important secret activities, including special operations and aiding organizations outside Syria and Iraq, where the organization’s power base is, including al-Maqdis.

Key Players in ABAM  Hamas origins and ISIS support:

The names of several key activists in this organization is repeatedly raised in the investigations into the matter: The widely mentioned name is Abdullah Mohammed Sayyid Kishta, a main force in improving ABAM’s abilities in the past two years, who served in the past as an operations officer in Hamas’ military wing. Kishta then left for Sinai, through one of the tunnels under the Philadelphi Route (which separates between Egypt and the Gaza Strip), and became head of instructions at ABAM in regards to the operation of antitank missiles and advanced explosive devices.

He is considered one of the senior antitank warfare experts in the region. Since he began his work in the organization, there appears to be an extremely significant increase in al-Maqdis’ use of antitank missiles and in their improvement. Up to two years ago, they mainly used RPGs, moving on to more advanced missiles like the Kornet.

Kishta is helping the organization improve its terror abilities in developing and assembling advanced bombs, including armor-piercing antitank explosives and explosive devices against roads and armored bunkers of the Egyptian army.

Intelligence groups in the West received information in March and April this year about ties between senior ISIS members in Iraq and members of al-Maqdis’ bomb units, including Kishta. A decoding of these messages revealed that ISIS’s R&D experts in Iraq are convinced that they have managed to develop a certain formula for putting together explosives with relatively low effectiveness, but which cannot be detected through regular means.

Israeli Intelligence on the origins of ABAM :

Israeli intelligence first heard the name Ansar Bair al-Maqdis in Gaza.

“In the early 2000s,” Haim Tomer recalls, “we heard there were radical Salafi cells in Gaza which go by that name. At the time, it was a local organization which attracted former activists from all kinds of other organizations who were discharged from them or found Hamas’ policy to be too moderate after different agreements signed with Israel.

ABAM was first comprised of a mixture of fragments of organizations and people and did not appear to be a big success. Israel’s security control and Hamas’ dominance made it impossible for the organization to really thrive and it didn’t leave a significant mark. But in 2002, its name emerged again in organizations of Bedouin in northern Sinai, and then in all of Sinai.

“We were confused for a moment,” says a senior source in the AMAN (Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate) research division. “We didn’t know if these were the same people we knew from Gaza or that they were just using the same name.”

But an examination conducted in Israel at the time revealed that global jihadist elements – mainly Egyptian, Libyan and Saudi – arrived in Sinai in order to take advantage of al-Qaeda’s international success at the time, after the September 11 attacks and the wave of attacks which washed through the world afterwards, and establish a terror organization there. These activists used a local infrastructure of Bedouins and Salafi Sunni activists who had escaped from Gaza.

The Sinai has seen significant attacks  by ISIS affiliate  – Ansar Bait al-Maqdis on Egyptian security forces, despite Egyptian forces  engaged in destruction and flooding smuggling tunnels along the frontier with Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel has built a 200 mile security fence and positioned IDF combat battalions.  Along its southern frontier.  Notwithstanding, the Eilat port and resort complex is still vulnerable to possible ISIS attack.  The Multilateral Force and Observers, set up to monitor the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, have been hit with IED attacks, prompting the US Army to send additional troops. This begs the question of why the MFO is not engaged in coordinating ISIS counterterrorism threats in the Sinai with both Israel and Egypt.  Moreover, ISIS presents a possible threat along the Israeli Jordanian border above the neighboring port of Aqaba where sympathetic groups have arisen and are allegedly under surveillance of Jordanian security forces.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.