Photo source: Shin Bet. Yasmin Jabar with two members identified by Israel as operatives of the joint Hizballah-Quds Force unit.
Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, together with the Israel Police, announced Sept. 17 that they had uncovered a plot by the joint unit, aimed at recruiting Israeli Arabs and Palestinians for terror attacks inside Israel.
The investigation resulted in the arrest of a Palestinian woman, Yasmin Jabar, a resident of the Old City in Jerusalem, who had been working at Hebrew University's National Library in Jerusalem. According to a senior Shin Bet source, the investigation honed in on suspected operatives that were recruited by Hizballah, and in the process, also uncovered cell activities in Turkey.
The investigation is part of a wider Israeli effort to thwart Iranian and Hizballah terrorism and espionage rings, "including those that originate in the Turkish arena, and to expose all of the elements in Israel and Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] that assist in this," the source said.
Hizballah is notorious for its large-scale arsenal of surface-to-surface projectiles, estimated at around 170,000 rockets and missiles. The Iranian Quds Force is the driving force in arming the organization, and funding it to the tune of $700 million a year.
But in addition to building up its rocket and missile arsenal, Hizballah is also busy with multiple efforts to recruit and dispatch terror cells to attack Israelis, both inside Israel and around the world. The Islamic Republic's Quds Force, whose commander Qassem Soleimani was assassinated in Baghdad by a U.S. drone strike last January, and is now led by his former deputy, Esmail Ghaani, continues to be Hizballah's partner in this endeavor.
The latest investigation uncovered how Hizballah uses secret communications channels, including the transmission of coded messages through social media networks, according to the Shin Bet. It also highlighted meetings by recruiters and operatives held around the world, "with an emphasis on Turkey," and the use of fictitious codenames by operatives during their operational missions to hide their membership in Hizballah.
Jabar was arrested by Israeli security forces Aug. 20 after falling under suspicion of being recruited by Hizballah. Additional suspects also were arrested on suspicion of belonging to the cell, including a Palestinian woman living in Ramallah who had spent time in Turkey in recent years.
The investigation found that Hizballah was holding conferences for young Palestinians in Lebanon, aimed at identifying potential recruits from Israel and the West Bank. Jabar, the Shin Bet said, was identified and marked out by Hizballah personnel after taking part in such a conference in Lebanon in 2015.
She received an operational codename – "Rahil." On a subsequent visit to Lebanon in 2016, two members of the joint unit run by Hizballah and the Quds Force, identified as Atiya Abu Samhadna and Muhammad Al-Haj Mussa, connected "Rahil" to a senior terror operative, identified by the Shin Bet as Jafar Kabisi, a man involved in past Hizballah recruitment efforts.
"Since being recruited by Hizballah, Jabar held secret communications with her operator, though the sending of covert agreed-upon messages on social media networks (such as Facebook and Instagram), and in line with an operational briefing and instructions she received from Hizballah," the Shin Bet stated.
During meetings in Turkey, Jabar received instructions from a female Hizballah operative identified by the Shin Bet as Rand Wahaba, a member of the joint terror unit, who went under the codename of "Wafa."
"During these meetings," Shin Bet said, "it was made clear to Jabar that her role was to recruit additional operatives in Israel, who will act as a cell under her command, with an emphasis on the importance of recruiting from among Israeli Arabs, particularly women, whose advantage is in their ability to move freely in Israel and to act within local cells for gathering information that will be used to plan future terror attacks."
The other operative arrested by Israeli security forces, Ramallah resident Tasnim Al-Qa'adi, is a friend of Jabar's who allegedly took part in the 2015 Lebanon conference as well. There, she met the terror unit's operatives and remained in touch with them, acting as liaison between the unit and Jabar, as part of the unit's efforts to maintain secret communication channels. Al-Qa'adi also allegedly received funds from the terror unit.
This is the second time that the Hizballah-Quds Unit has been exposed by Israel's intelligence community. In June, the Shin Bet identified Beirut Hamud – from Majd al-Krum, an Arab town in Israel's northern Galilee region – together with her husband, Balal Bizari, as recruits for the unit. They were allegedly tasked with recruiting additional members into a cell.
The intelligence agency called Bizari, warning him that Israel was aware of his and his wife's activities. Bizari attempted to dismiss the accusations during the call.
The recent revelations came days after another reminder of Hizballah's worldwide terror activity, which came in the form of a Bulgarian court sentencing of two Lebanese men in absentia for their role in assisting the 2012 Burgas bus bombing that killed seven people, including five Israeli citizens.
An additional reminder of Hizballah's activities came on Tuesday, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel Defense Force identified three sites in Beirut, embedded in civilian neighborhoods, used by the organization to produce precision guided missiles.
"We all saw the terrible explosion at Beirut port last month," Netanyahu said during a speech delivered by video conference to the United Nations. Using maps for emphasis, he pointed to the blast site. "This is the Beirut port. Two hundred people died, thousands of people were injured, and a quarter of a million people were made homeless. Now, here is where the next explosion could take place. Right here. This is the Beirut neighborhood of Janah. It's right next to the international airport. And here, Hizballah is keeping a secret arms depot. This secret arms depot, right here, is adjacent, a meter away, from a gas company. These are gas canisters. Right here. It's a few meters away from a gas station. It's 50 meters away from the gas company. Here are more gas trucks. And it's embedded in civilian housing here, civilian housing here."
He added, "I say to the people of Lebanon, Israel means you no harm. But Iran does. Iran and Hizballah have deliberately put you and your families in grave danger."
The precision guided missile project is a joint Hizballah-Iranian program, and it includes the conversion of existing rockets into precision projectiles, as well as setting up an array to produce them from scratch within Lebanon.
The program fits in well with Hizballah and Iran's agenda of using human shields to protect offensive capabilities designed to target Israeli civilians.
Whether through missiles or terror plots, Israel's defense establishment is continuously monitoring, and occasionally exposing, efforts by Iran and Hizballah to target Israelis.
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
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