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Hizbullah's increased activity among Arab Israelis intensifies the security risks Israel faces
By Yoni Ben Menachem
In recent weeks, the Israel Security Agency apprehended four Arab Israelis from Kafr Qasem and Lod who collaborated with Hizbullah in Lebanon to facilitate weapons smuggling into Israeli territory.
The weapons included large explosive devices manufactured in Iran. The smuggling operation took place through a route often used by terrorist elements, extending from Lebanon to Israel.
The Israel Security Agency's revelation of a new smuggling route for Iranian-manufactured explosive devices into Israel, coupled with a Hizbullah terrorist's attack on the Megiddo Junction using a sizeable Iranian-made explosive device on March 13, 2023, indicate an intense push by Hizbullah to embed itself deeper within Arab society in Israel.
Hizbullah's Intelligence Infiltration of Israel
Hizbullah has been striving to recruit individuals from Israel's Arab population for over two decades and has achieved some success.
In 2000, it recruited Arab Israeli Keis Obeid from the village of Taibe, who played a pivotal role in kidnapping Israeli citizen Col. (res) Elhanan Tannenbaum in Dubai, where he was involved in a drug deal. Tannenbaum was abducted and flown to Lebanon, held by Hizbullah for three years, and then exchanged for 435 prisoners in Israel.
In 2002, Hizbullah recruited Bedouin-Israeli Omar al-Heib from the village of Zarzir, a former IDF lieutenant colonel. Israel convicted him of espionage and drug trafficking and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
Hizbullah also established ties with Azmi Bashara, a former member of the Knesset, suspected of passing information to the organization during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 in exchange for substantial sums of money.
To avoid prosecution, Bashara fled the country in 2007 following the exposure of the affair. Today, Bashara is the director of the Qatari Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, which is affiliated with the Arab Center research center in Washington, D.C.
These instances are just a few among several notable cases covered by the media.
Infiltration through Criminal Elements
Security officials believe that Hizbullah is capitalizing on the escalating crime rates within Israel's Arab community and the demand for weapons and explosive devices among Arab criminal factions engaged in internal conflicts.
This situation allows Hizbullah to forge alliances with hostile elements within Israel's Arab population, potentially recruiting them as operatives and agents of chaos, especially in a military confrontation with Israel.
Four Israeli Arabs caught in July 2023 who were in possession of Iran-made explosives.
The successful infiltration of Israel with at least two large Iranian-made explosive Claymore mines – even if initially intended for criminal purposes – deeply concerns the Israel Security Agency. While initially intended for criminal activities, these powerful devices could potentially end up in the hands of terrorist groups, serving as tools for attacks.
Hizbullah's attempts to establish new smuggling routes and refine its operational methods are ongoing.
While the terror organization previously focused on recruiting individuals with extremist views within Israel's Arab population, the current surge in crime rates among Arabs has led Hizbullah to target potential recruits from the criminal underworld. Arab Israelis intimately know Jewish Israeli society, its vulnerabilities, economic dynamics, and social connections.
Their insight makes them valuable sources of intelligence for Hizbullah, which can then be channeled to Iran.
There is a genuine concern that Arab criminals seeking retribution may form alliances with Hizbullah, mobilizing and cooperating in ways that could threaten national security.
Introducing hazardous Iranian explosive devices, like the Claymore mines, into Israel poses a substantial threat, even if intended for internal criminal conflicts.
Such devices could potentially find their way into the hands of terrorist factions in Judea and Samaria, endangering both IDF soldiers and settlers.
The disclosure of Iranian explosive devices results from the Israel Security Agency's expansion of duties into investigating criminal activities tangentially linked to terrorism.
The boundary between these realms is thin, and the Israel Security Agency acknowledges the dual nature of weapon trafficking, which not only fuels the illegal arms market within Israel's Arab community but also supplies armed terrorist groups in Judea and Samaria.
Iran's strategy includes smuggling weapons into northern Samaria through Jordan, alongside substantial financial support for terrorist groups in Samaria, enabling them to procure weapons on the black market among Arab Israelis.
Hizbullah's Support for Palestinians
Commentators in Lebanon speculate that the weaponry found among criminal elements in the Arab community may eventually be turned against Israel's security forces if tensions escalate, as happened in October 2000 and May 2021, particularly in response to events at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
During Operation "Guardian of the Walls" in May 2021, Hizbullah lauded the efforts of Arab Israelis who engaged in riots and targeted Jews and security forces in Arab and mixed cities.
Hizbullah's media outlets proclaimed, "Palestinians inside Israel understand that this is first and foremost their own battle."
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.