Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 1   No. 9

September 1999 


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Israel Confronts the Enemy Within

Bomb Wreckage in Israel

Both of the cars exploded prematurely
Reaction in Israel to the two car bomb attacks on September 5 which left all three occupants dead and a 73-year old woman seriously injured was initially rather subdued. An attack by Hamas suicide bombers in response to the signing of the Sharm El Sheikh land-for-security agreement on September 4 had been widely expected. However, it soon emerged that the three were not Palestinians, but Arab Israelis--a community which historically has been disinclined toward violent political actions, igniting an intense security crisis.

The three perpetrators of the attack--Nazal Kraim, Amir Masalha and Jad Azaize---were members of the Israeli Islamic Movement, a nonprofit charitable organization. Although the Islamic Movement has not advocated violence in the past, its political objectives are similar to those of Hamas. "They work to change society by means of preaching and education, [but] the final goal is a religious Islamic state in which the Jews are a minority," said a senior Israeli security official. The leaders of the movement, he said, were in close contact with leaders of Hamas. "They are very welcome guests at the home of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and at Hamas rallies in Gaza."1

Investigators have obtained intelligence data indicating that the three terrorists had prior connections with Hamas. Most of this information has been censored, though the Israeli press reported that Kraim was briefly arrested in 1994 after his identification card was found on the body of a Hamas suicide bomber who died in a terrorist attack in Afula. At least seven suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks, but no information about their involvement has been released.

According to police, the terrorists did not intend to kill themselves in the attack, but planned to leave suitcases containing 15 kg (33 lbs) of explosives in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic--in both cases, the bombs exploded prematurely. The obvious imperfections in the bombs highlight the fact that some of Hamas's most skilled bomb-makers have been eliminated (e.g. Yahya Ayyash in 1996 and Muhyideen al-Sharif in 1998). "It's not just good luck that these people blew themselves up unintentionally. It has more to do with the effective bomb makers having been eliminated," said Barry Rubin, deputy director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.2

The bombers themselves were obviously inexperienced in handling explosives (according to one report, the two who were driving the car in Tiberias braked for an elderly woman crossing the road just prior to the explosion). This may indicate that Hamas is having problems training recruits for such attacks. "It signals that they face a severe problem," said Menachem Klein, an Israeli political scientist from Bar-Ilan University. "If you check all the recent attacks, many of them were the work of amateurs."3

  1 "Shin Bet to demand that government act against Islamic Movement," Ha'aretz, 9 September 1999.
  2 "Bombs in Israel May Show Hamas Is on Ropes," Reuters, 8 September 1999.
  3 Ibid.

1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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