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August 12, 2022 11:23 am
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The Top 5 Terror Groups Threatening Israel’s Existence

avatar by Chaim Lax

Opinion

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants gather at a mourning house for Palestinians who were killed during Israel-Gaza fighting, as a ceasefire holds, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 8, 2022. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

In the past few days, the world media has been awash with reports on terrorism against Israel, following the IDF’s Operation Breaking Dawn against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip; Hezbollah’s threats against Israel over the Jewish state’s maritime dispute with Lebanon; and the killing of a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in the West Bank city of Nablus.

However, even for the most seasoned observer of Middle Eastern affairs, it can be difficult to grasp what differentiates one terrorist group from the other. Who are the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades? What does Hezbollah believe? What separates Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

With this quick guide to the top five anti-Israel terror groups, you will be better able to understand each individual organization, while also appreciating the different threats that face the Jewish state every day.

1. Hamas

Founded: 1987

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Ideology: Sunni Islamic fundamentalism

Background:

The Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas, was founded at the beginning of the First Intifada (1987-1993) by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and religious members of the PLO, who sought to replace Israel with an Islamic Palestinian state.

In response to the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, Hamas launched a wave of attacks against both Israeli soldiers and civilians, including suicide bombings. With the collapse of negotiations in 2000 and the start of the Second Intifada, Hamas ramped up its terrorist attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, Gaza, and pre-1967 Israel.

In 2006, Iran-backed Hamas contested the Palestinian legislative elections and gained the majority of seats. Following the election, Hamas engaged in violent confrontations with Fatah, ultimately gaining full control over the Gaza Strip (Fatah maintained control over the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank).

Since then, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers and engaged in four large-scale terror campaign against the Jewish state — in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021.

Between 2006 and 2011, Hamas also held the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive in Gaza, using him as a bargaining chip to achieve the release of hundreds of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists. It currently holds two Israeli civilians, as well as the remains of two IDF soldiers.

Notable terrorist attacks:

  • The 1996 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus that killed 26 people (17 civilians and 9 soldiers).
  • The 2001 suicide bombing of the popular Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem; 15 people were killed, including seven children.
  • The 2001 suicide bombing outside the Dolphinarium Disco in Tel Aviv by a Hamas-affiliated terrorist; 21 people were killed, mostly teenage girls waiting to enter the club.
  • The 2002 suicide bombing of a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya; 30 people were killed and 140 were injured.
  • The 2002 bombing of a cafeteria on Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus; nine people were killed, including four American citizens.
  • The 2003 suicide bombing of a local bus in Jerusalem’s Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood; 23 people were killed and 130 were injured.
  • A 2014 Jerusalem car-ramming attack by a member of Hamas that killed a three-month-old girl and would later claim the life of an Ecuadorian woman.
  • The 2015 shooting attack that killed Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na’ama.

Listed as a terrorist organization by: The United States, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand (only Hamas’ so-called “military wing”), the United Kingdom, and, Australia

2. Hezbollah

Founded: 1982

Ideology: Shia Islamic fundamentalism

Background:

Hezbollah (the “Party of God”) was founded at the behest of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which wanted an obedient terror proxy in southern Lebanon.

Inspired by the Iranian revolution, Hezbollah’s stated goals were the creation of an Islamic republic in Lebanon, the removal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, and the ultimate destruction of the only Jewish state.

Due to its Iran-aligned worldview, Hezbollah has also undertaken attacks against Western targets in Lebanon and around the world.

Between Israel’s 1985 withdrawal to a security buffer zone along its northern border and its 2000 departure from all of Lebanon, Hezbollah conducted a campaign of continuous attacks against Israeli forces, as well as rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

In 2006, Hezbollah initiated a 34-day war with Israel that saw missiles reach as far as Haifa, and led to the deaths of 44 Israeli civilians. Since that war, Hezbollah has continued to occasionally attack Israeli forces along the Lebanon-Israel border.

To this day, Hezbollah still poses a threat to the Jewish state, having amassed a large arsenal of sophisticated weapons. According to Israeli intelligence, Hezbollah has approximately 130,000 rockets and missiles threatening Israel’s civilian centers. These weapons are stored in civilian buildings like homes, mosques, schools, and hospitals.

Aside from being a terrorist organization, Hezbollah also holds 16 seats in the Lebanese parliament.

According to some experts, Hezbollah’s influence and strength — it is more powerful than the Lebanese Army — allows it to act like a state-within-a-state and control the levers of power in Lebanon.

Notable terrorist attacks:

  • The 1984 car bombing of the US embassy annex in Beirut, which killed 11 people.
  • The 1988 hijacking of a Kuwait Airways Flight. The 16-day hostage situation ended with the murder of two passengers.
  • The 1994 suicide bombing attack against a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This resulted in the deaths of 85 people.
  • The 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister.
  • The 2012 bombing of a tour bus full of Israelis outside the Burgas airport in Bulgaria. Six people were killed in this attack.

Listed as a terrorist organization by: The United States, the European Union (only Hezbollah’s “military wing”), Canada, New Zealand (only its “military wing”), the United Kingdom, and Australia

3. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)

Founded: 1981

Ideology: Sunni Islamic fundamentalism

Background:

One of the most radical Gaza-based terrorist organizations to threaten Israel’s existence, PIJ was formally founded in 1981, after its creators were expelled from Egypt due to their connections with the organization that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

Although it was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the PIJ later came under the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To this day, Iran is the largest state sponsor of the PIJ.

PIJ does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, is opposed to the peace process, seeks to destroy Israel through jiahd, and is determined to establish an Islamic Palestinian state.

The first PIJ attack against Israel came in 1986, prior to the First Intifada, and its use of violence continued through the 1990s into the Second Intifada. After the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, PIJ largely focused on indiscriminately firing rockets at Israeli civilian centers.

Since 2005, PIJ has been the target of a number of short Israeli military campaigns focused on reducing the terror organization’s capability to harm Israelis. These campaigns took place in 2012, 2019, and 2022.

Although its activities are mainly focused in Gaza, PIJ headquarters are based in Syria. There are also smaller PIJ cells in the West Bank, largely concentrated in Jenin and Nablus.

Notable terrorist attacks:

  • A 1990 ambush of an Israeli tour bus in Egypt. Nine people were killed and 17 were injured.
  • A 1995 double suicide bombing at a bus stop in central Israel, killing 20 soldiers and one civilian.
  • A 2002 suicide bombing at a bus stop in northern Israel, killing 13 soldiers and four civilians.
  • A 2003 suicide bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa. 21 people were killed, including four children.
  • A 2006 suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv restaurant that left 11 people dead and 70 injured.
  • A 2007 suicide bombing at an Eilat bakery that killed three people.

Listed as a terrorist organization by: The United States, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia

4. The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades

Founded: 2000

Ideology: Secular Palestinian nationalism

Background:

The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades was founded at the beginning of the Second Intifada (2000-2005), as a loose network of armed units that were connected to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party.

While initially focused on attacks against the Israeli army and Jewish communities in the West Bank, the Brigades expanded their terrorist activities to target all of Israel’s territory in 2002.

Although some members of the Brigades joined the Palestinian Authority security services in exchange for amnesty in 2007, the organization continues to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel to this day.

Notable terrorist attacks:

  • A 2002 shooting attack on a bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera that left six dead.
  • A 2002 suicide bombing in downtown Jerusalem that left one dead and 140 injured (reportedly the first-ever attack by a female suicide bomber).
  • A 2002 suicide bombing at a bar mitzvah celebration in Jerusalem that left nine dead.
  • twin suicide bombing on the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station in 2003 that left 23 dead.
  • joint suicide bombing attack with Hamas against the Ashdod Port in 2004 that left 10 dead.
  • A 2022 shooting attack in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak that left five dead.
  • A 2022 shooting attack at the entrance to Ariel that left one person dead.

Listed as a terrorist organization by: The United States, the European Union, Canada, and New Zealand

5. The Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Founded: 1967

Ideology: Marxism-Leninism, secular Palestinian nationalism

Background:

The second-largest party in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the PFLP was founded in 1967 when a number of left-wing Palestinian organizations united under the leadership of George Habash. Since then, the PFLP has been engaged in a wide array of terrorist activities, including hijackings, suicide bombings, and shootings, with the goal of replacing Israel with a secular Arab state.

As a core tenet of the PFLP’s ideology, it does not recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. Thus, it opposed the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s, and largely maintains this position until the present day.

Since its inception, the PFLP has maintained ties with a number of state sponsors, including the Soviet Union, Syria, China, and, most recently, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Furthermore, in the past few years, the PFLP has developed ties with a number of Palestinian NGOs as well as organizations that support the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Notable terrorist attacks:

  • The hijacking of an El Al flight in 1968. Some passengers and crew members were held hostage for 39 days in Algeria.
  • The hijacking of four international flights in 1970. Three of these flights were diverted to Dawson’s Airfield in Jordan, where the empty planes were blown up in front of the media.
  • The 2001 assassination of Israel’s tourism minister, Rehavam Ze’evi.
  • A suicide bombing at Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market in 2004 that left three people dead.
  • The PFLP claimed responsibility for the 2014 attack on a Jerusalem synagogue that saw five people (including a responding police officer) killed during prayer services.
  • The 2019 killing of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb by a roadside bomb as she hiked with her family near the Jewish community of Dolev.

Listed as a terrorist organization by: The United States, the European Union, and Canada

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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