Israel uncovered a West Bank network of Hamas militants planning a series of large-scale attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem and other locations, the country’s domestic security agency said Thursday.
The targets were to include Jerusalem’s soccer stadium and light-rail system, and the militants were also instructed to abduct Israelis in the West Bank and abroad and carry out car bombings and other attacks, according to Shin Bet, the agency.
The plot was exposed in an investigation sparked by a pair of bombs that were set off by a timer in the West Bank in late August, the agency reported to local media and on its website. The blasts caused no injuries.
Officials said the investigation led to the arrest of more than 30 suspects, most of whom were recruited by Hamas in Jordan as early as 2012 and received military training in various locations including Jordan, Syria, Turkey and the Gaza Strip.
Several weapons, including firearms and bomb components, were also recovered, the officials said.
There was no immediate response from Hamas to the arrests.
According to the Shin Bet, the reported plots and other exposed networks showed that militant Islamic movement Hamas is keen on rehabilitating its military infrastructure in the West Bank to challenge both Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank.
Hamas forcefully wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Despite a reconciliation accord signed earlier this year between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement, mutual mistrust persists.
In recent years, both Palestinian security forces and Israel’s military have checked Hamas’ power in the West Bank. In June, Israel launched a wide-scale crackdown on the organization, arresting hundreds of suspected sympathizers following the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers, later found dead. On several occasions, Israel warned of Hamas plots to destabilize the Palestinian Authority run by Abbas, who opposes armed struggle and has negotiated with Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israeli forces for “foiling very dangerous terrorist actions that could have claimed many victims.”
While this particular intelligence operation was publicized, others remain secret, directed at “Hamas, which challenges the existence of the Jewish nation-state and, in effect, the existence of Jews in general,” the prime minister said.
His statement seemed to draw a connection between this latest development and the ongoing controversy surrounding his effort to pass a law defining Israel as the national homeland of Jews only.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.