Hezbollah Uses Terror Recruitment to Threaten Israel
JNS.org – When it comes to the threat posed by Hezbollah, Israelis often worry about rocket attacks or other conventional arms. But the Lebanese Shia terrorist organization is also trying to strike Israel in a very different manner.
Hezbollah has been hard at work attempting to systematically recruit Palestinian and Israeli-Arab operatives to commit terror attacks inside Israel — often using the Internet to seek out and tempt new members from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel itself.
The goal of Hezbollah is to orchestrate devastating, lethal acts of terrorism, but to cover up any trails that might lead back to the group, thereby inflicting painful blows on Israel without having to face the consequences. To date, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency have successfully thwarted such efforts, and many Israeli lives have been saved as a result.
Most recently, Israeli security forces announced the arrest of Yusef Yasser Sweilam, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank city of Kalkilya, who was suspected of being a Hezbollah operative. And in October, Israeli officials charged six residents of the village of Khadr, located on Israel’s border with Lebanon, with attempting to plant bombs in Haifa on behalf of Hezbollah.
Yoram Schweitzer, the head of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, said that Hezbollah’s recruitment of Israeli Arabs “is not a new phenomenon.”
“It is a continuation of durable efforts by Hezbollah to take advantage of Arab Israelis…both as collectors of intelligence for Hezbollah purposes, as facilitators, and — from time to time — as perpetrators [of terror attacks],” Schweitzer told JNS.org.
Hezbollah’s recruitment process
A common Hezbollah recruitment method involves setting up Facebook profiles that feature pro-Palestinian content, and making them accessible to Hezbollah’s target audience.
Hezbollah follows up with private-message chats, in which would-be recruits are tempted with financial incentives, and then ultimately are asked to join the terror group.
The next stage involves the transmission of a series of instructions that include steps to carry out shooting attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli targets. This is often accompanied by encouragement to recruit additional members, and to form a cell that Hezbollah can control from afar.
According to the Shin Bet, the most recent manifestation of this threat was the alleged plan of Sweilam, the arrested Palestinian from Kalkilya, who received instructions from Hezbollah on how to conduct attacks — including a kidnapping.
Sweilam, a welder by profession, was allegedly recruited to Hezbollah through a Facebook profile used by the Lebanese organization to attract new members from the Palestinian population.
According to a Shin Bet investigation, Sweilam was instructed to open an email account, where he began receiving messages from his Hezbollah handler, known as “Abu Hassin.”
Sweilam was allegedly ordered to photograph and gather data on IDF bases and checkpoints, as well as sites in Jerusalem’s Old City. Hezbollah even ordered him to set up a terrorist cell for the purpose of kidnapping an Israeli and moving him to Lebanon.
The Shin Bet arrested Sweilam before any of these plots could be realized, and he was recently charged with a series of security offenses in Israel’s Samaria Military Court.
Terror cells thwarted
The Sweilam episode is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2016, Hezbollah attempted to set up multiple terror cells, all of which were stopped by Israeli security forces before they could carry out attacks.
The thwarted operations included a Hezbollah-organized terror cell in Kalkilya that was supposed to perpetrate shooting attacks against IDF patrols the members of this cell had already started conducting firearms and explosives training when they were busted.
Meanwhile, a Hezbollah operative from the northern West Bank was instructed to recruit other terrorists and to carry out a suicide bombing attack aboard an Israeli bus.
Last year, Hezbollah also recruited a new member in the Jenin Refugee Camp, and sent him instructions on how to form a terror cell, purchase M-16 assault rifles and target IDF forces in his area. A second Jenin operative received instructions for conducting attacks, and had agreed to recruit others. Both plots were disrupted before any Israelis were harmed.
‘Special units’ for Israeli Arabs
According to reports, Hezbollah has set up a branch dedicated to recruiting terrorist operatives to harm Israel; the branch contains “special units” that activate Israeli-Arab recruits, according to Schweitzer.
Some Arabs might be “recruited abroad while studying, for example,” Schweitzer said, while others might permanently aside in Israel.
One of the most-high profile cases of this nature involved Azmi Bishra, the former leader of the Arab political party Balad in the Knesset, who fled from Israel in 2007 after coming under suspicion of being a Hezbollah agent.
In the months and years ahead, as Hezbollah continues its efforts to recruit Palestinian and Israeli-Arab operatives, Israel’s security forces can be expected to remain on high alert for this threat.