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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF VIOLENCE ACROSS ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

FLASH ALERT: VERY HIGH RISK OF VIOLENT CLASHES, AIRSTRIKES, ROCKETS, GROUND ATTACKS, AND DAMAGE TO INFRASTRUCTURE ACROSS ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES AS TENSIONS ERUPT


May 10, 2021 | CTG CENTCOM Team

“A night to remember” Temple Mount on fire[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for Israel and Palestine where the threat of airstrikes and rocket strikes is imminent. The Current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that violent clashes will continue and escalate over the next 24-48 hours. Though there is a risk across all Israeli and Palestinian territories, there is a heightened risk to Palestinians and Arabs in Sheikh Jarrah, Northern Gaza, Abu Ghosh, and East Jerusalem. The risk to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Israeli politicians, and Israeli and Jewish citizens is intensified in Otef Aza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the West Bank. This assessment is underpinned by the ongoing and developing tensions between the Israeli police, IDF, and Palestinians in recent weeks as a result of the attempted forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Skirmishes and the throwing of rocks and bottles by the Palestinians over previous weeks have escalated to Hamas launching rockets into Israeli territory from Gaza. This assessment is further underpinned by the actions of the Israeli security forces on both Friday, May 7, 2021, when forces stormed the Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem as Palestinians gathered to break the fast on the final Friday of Ramadan and again on the morning or Monday, May 10 as Israeli officers attempted to clear the area ahead of the annual Jerusalem Day March. This demonstrates the willingness of the IDF and police to use excessive force against Palestinians even when the latter are acting peacefully; therefore, it is a likely assessment that counterterrorism operations will be particularly aggressive when responding to the violent strikes carried out by Hamas on Monday, May 10. Furthermore, there have been several concerning calls to arms by actors from Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas on social media, suggesting that both sides will continue to carry out reciprocal attacks in the coming hours and days.


The growing discontent and aggression between Palestinians and Israeli forces in recent weeks meant that increased violence had been anticipated ahead of the Jerusalem Day March on Monday, May 10. This march is considered by Palestinians as an intentionally inflammatory event and follows a planned route through some Palestinian areas. In an attempt to mitigate the potential for armed clashes, Israeli police organized a storming of the Al Aqsa mosque early in the morning of Monday, May 10 using rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse worshippers, some of whom had attempted to blockade the entrance to the mosque to deter the Israeli forces. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that at least 305 people had been injured by officers, some of whom critically.[2] Once police had cleared the Mosque and surrounding compound they established a perimeter around the area denying Palestinians entry. This move was met with a response from the Al-Qassem Brigades - the military wing of Hamas - who issued an ultimatum to Israeli forces that they must withdraw all police forces from Al Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah by 1800 local time today (Monday) or prepare for retaliation. This deadline was not met and rocket attacks fired from Gaza by Hamas ensued immediately upon the passing of the deadline. In retaliation, Israel carried out strikes on Palestinian areas in Northern Gaza.[3] The CENTCOM Team predicts with a high level of certainty that reciprocal attacks will continue and escalate dramatically over the coming 24 hours, particularly overnight.


Posts circulating on social media claim that there have been several fatalities of Palestinians from Israeli strikes on the evening of Monday, May 10. Initial reports state that nine people had been killed including three children.[4] This was later increased to 20 people.[5] Images of the deceased children have been shared online and will likely evoke a strong emotional response among the Arab communities not only in Israel but across the region and globally. This is likely to give impetus to the violent momentum building in Israel presently. Additionally, reports from both Hamas and the Israeli army have confirmed that a Hamas Commander was killed in an airstrike.[6] Telegram communications suggest that the deceased is likely Al-Qassem Commander Muhammad Abdullah Fayyad. This killing is not likely to deter Hamas but will make the group even more determined to carry out revenge attacks.


To emphasize this point, senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad called upon Palestinians in Jerusalem to purchase knives for the cheap price of five shekels to “cut off the heads of the Jews” during a press briefing he delivered following the first wave of Israeli strikes. In addition to a long history of Hamas attacks targeting Jewish civilians in the past, this statement establishes a high level of certainty that Hamas followers will heed these instructions and may conduct attacks with unsophisticated weapons such as knives or cars.


Hamas official calls for attacks against Jews[7]


Other Palestinian groups have expressed vocal support for Hamas and a commitment to join the fight against Israel. The armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad - the Al-Quds Brigades - has threatened attacks against Tel Aviv and Ashkelon.[8] The former is the Capital city, the central hub of Israel, and the location of Ben Gurion Airport, the largest airport in Israel, while the latter is not only symbolic for its history but is an urban seaport that hosts an oil pipeline. Infrastructure damage from any Palestinian targeted attacks could have a devastating impact on Israel’s economy and access to natural resources. Beyond the economic ramifications of the damage to buildings and infrastructure are the symbolic reverberations of destruction to sacred structures such as Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa compound. Images of Temple Mount engulfed in flames serve as a powerful visual propaganda tool that will likely be exploited by Far-right Jewish groups such as Lehava to inspire activists.


President Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that Israel will not tolerate any attacks on Israeli territory and that it will retaliate if necessary.[9] As seen by the airstrikes against terrorist groups in Gaza, Israel does not seem to be retracting. As the conflict continues to escalate, both Palestinians and Israelis will be at a heightened risk of injury and death as the Israeli government and Palestinian terrorist groups counterattack. The areas being more heavily targeted in Israel are Jerusalem, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot, and the neighborhoods close to Gaza. Tel Aviv and other cities in central Israel are also likely to be targeted by Palestinian terrorist groups in the coming hours, and, as result, various municipalities, including Tel Aviv, have opened bomb shelters.[10] Netanyahu has also convened with the high-level security cabinet and, in preparation for the conflict, the IDF has increased its presence in the areas close to the Gaza-Israel border.[11] As evidenced by its interception of rockets fired from Gaza today, Israel’s Iron Dome missile system will be essential in the coming hours and days if terrorists continue to target Israeli territory. For instance, the IDF stated that the Iron Dome shut down all missiles fired at Ashkelon on May 10, some of which have been launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad according to the group, once again highlighting the importance of this defense system in Israel’s security.[12][13] Additionally, seeing that Israel holds Hamas responsible for all the attacks conducted from Gaza, it is likely that Israel will keep hitting Hamas’ targets in an attempt to disrupt their capabilities. According to sources, IDF fighter jets hit an underground tunnel in Gaza, which is utilized by terrorist groups. Additional information states that Israel’s Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz is currently in a meeting with senior IDF leadership, in order to greenlight further operations.[14]


The ongoing and escalating threat to civilians across Israel and Palestine has resulted in considerable interruptions to transport and travel in and around the territories. The opening of public bomb shelters throughout Israel and the ringing of warning sirens have created panic in many areas and led to congestion of roads and train lines. Additionally, all flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport have been re-routed as a safety precaution.[15] All schools in Tel Aviv have been closed until the situation is resolved. The Counterterrorism Group advises that all citizens heed these warnings and remain at home or in bomb shelters where possible. As rocket attacks continue and visibility becomes more limited as night falls, road traffic collisions due to the panic and attempts to seek safety may increase. This will likely put additional strain on emergency services who are already becoming overwhelmed, particularly in Jerusalem following the significant number of injuries inflicted earlier today at Al Aqsa Mosque. Lastly, red alert sirens have been going off in the central-southern part of the country, including Gaza border town, Sderot.


Road closures in Israel[16]


CTG anticipates that there is a high likelihood that there will be a continuation of violence or reignition of the conflict later in the week during the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr which is due to take place on May 12 or 13. This estimation is underpinned by the recent actions of Israeli police and security forces that demonstrated their willingness to conduct a security operation on Al Aqsa Mosque during a religious celebration on Friday, May 7 - the final Friday of Ramadan. It is likely that, given the events of the past few days, the Israeli security forces may perceive any gathering of Palestinians as a potential security threat and see fit to dismantle the gathering even if there is no suggestion of violence. The deteriorating relations between these two groups means that Palestinians are also likely to anticipate an aggression such as this and may respond violently, or even preemptively. Therefore, it is critical that a resolution can be met swiftly with the support of external actors such as the United Nations to mitigate long-term conflict which could result in another intifada.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed great concern about the escalation of violence and the rocket firing in and around Jerusalem and urged the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to engage in negotiations to de-escalate the violence, while also Greece’s foreign ministry called on all sides to refrain from the use of violence.[17][18] In addition, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the ongoing violence and the firing of rockets.[19] Germany called for all sides to “avoid further civilian casualties'' after Israel launched deadly airstrikes on Gaza in response to rockets fired by Hamas.[20] On the other hand, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to “do everything in his power to mobilize the world, starting with the Islamic world, to stop Israel’s terror and occupation.”[21] According to sources, large demonstrations are taking place in Ankara and the West Bank to protest against the Israeli actions. Furthermore, on May 8, 2021, following earlier aggressions by Israeli security forces as a result of the siege on Al Aqsa Mosque, Al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) issued a statement calling for an intifada in response to Israel’s plans to annex areas in East Jerusalem. The statement explicitly urged “all Muslims to attack Jews with "bombs, missiles, guns, knives, catapults, rocks" & to target Jewish interests & embassies worldwide.”[22] This demonstrates the reality that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict leverages threats far beyond the borders of their two territories and highlights the threat of violence globally.


Crowds gather in Ankara in solidarity with Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem[23]


CONCLUSION


CTG assesses that the continuous current threat of clashes, airstrikes, and ground attacks is VERY HIGH. CTG recommends that Israel should be on high alert considering recent attacks conducted by terrorist groups in Gaza. It is recommended that Israel deploy its security forces to de-escalate the violence and utilize its military and security apparatus to secure the state against Palestinian attacks. This strategy should seek to target only Hamas enclaves and military apparatus where possible to avoid targeting the civilian Palestinian population which would only exacerbate the situation. The two parties will likely evolve into tit-for-tat retaliatory actions, which will further deepen the crisis. The United Nations, the US, and other global powers should mediate were necessary to de-escalate tensions in the region. Seeing that AQAP has publicly encouraged Muslims to carry out attacks against Jews, our analysis indicates that the risk to Israeli embassies, consulates, critical infrastructure, and other companies, offices, and interests around the world is HIGH. We further consider the threat to both Israeli and Palestinian civilians to be HIGH in anticipation of further retaliatory attacks between the two parties. The CENTCOM team will closely monitor the developments in Israel and the region and collect further intelligence to provide threat and risk assessments.


If any individuals are interested in learning more about security measures to protect their facilities and personnel, please contact The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-248 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

[1] “A night to remember” Temple Mount on fire, from Telegram, via CyberHUMINT

[2] Israeli police storm al-Aqsa mosque ahead of Jerusalem Day march, The Guardian, May 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/10/dozens-injured-in-clashes-over-israeli-settlements-ahead-of-jerusalem-day-march

[3] Jerusalem clashes: Israel carries out missile strike in northern Gaza, France 24, May 2021 https://www.france24.com/en/video/20210510-jerusalem-clashes-israel-carries-out-missile-strike-in-northern-gaza

[4] Palestinians report several killed in Israeli air raids on Gaza, Al Jazeera, May 2021 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/10/israeli-forces-raid-al-aqsa-compound-live

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Shreyash Triparti,” Twitter, May 10, 2021 https://twitter.com/ShreyashTripthi/status/1391800639324246016

[8] Al-Quds Brigades, from Telegram, via CyberHUMINT

[9] Netanyahu vows Hamas will pay 'heavy price' for rocket fire, Associated Press News, May 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-israel-jerusalem-076a9ec7e2bd9c065882c64a4ab820a1

[10] Bomb shelters open up in Tel Aviv area, Times of Israel, May 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/bomb-shelters-open-up-in-tel-aviv-area/

[11] ISRAEL GOES ON HIGH ALERT: Air Traffic Diverted, Hospitals On Standby, Bomb Shelters Opened, Fears Of Imminent Hamas Attack, The Yeshiva World, May 2021, https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/1972508/israel-goes-on-high-alert-air-traffic-diverted-hospitals-on-standby-bomb-shelters-opened-fears-of-imminent-hamas-attack.html

[12] Palestinian Islamic Jihad says numberous Badr 3 rockets fired at Ashkelon, i24, May 2021, https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/1620660091-hamas-issues-ultimatum-to-israel-to-vacate-police-from-temple-mount-sheikh-jarrah

[13] IDF: Iron Dome downs all rockets fired at Ashkelon, Times of Israel, May 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/idf-iron-dome-downs-all-rockets-fired-at-ashkelon/

[14] Israel: IDF fighter jets strike Gaza terrorist tunnel, i24, May 2021 https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/1620660091-hamas-issues-ultimatum-to-israel-to-vacate-police-from-temple-mount-sheikh-jarrah

[15] “Avi Mayer” from Twitter, May 10, 2021 https://twitter.com/AviMayer/status/1391761023657459718

[16] “Mete Sohtaoğlu,” Twitter, May 10, 2021 https://twitter.com/metesohtaoglu/status/1391760866366853121

[17] Blinken says rocket attacks on Israel must stop 'immediately', Reuters, May 2021 https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/blinken-says-rocket-attacks-israel-must-stop-immediately-2021-05-10/

[18] Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on recent violence in Jerusalem, Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 2021, https://www.mfa.gr/en/current-affairs/statements-speeches/statement-of-the-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-on-recent-violence-in-jerusalem.html

[19] UK condemns firing of rockets at Jerusalem and locations within Israel, Foreign Secretary says, Reuters, May 2021 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-jerusalem-britain/uk-condemns-firing-of-rockets-at-jerusalem-and-locations-within-israel-foreign-secretary-says-idUSKBN2CR25I

[20] Berlin urges Israelis, Palestinians to 'avoid further civilian casualties', The Australian, May 2021, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/berlin-urges-israelis-palestinians-to-avoid-further-civilian-casualties/news-story/ad93bfe4963879b41ed32fb44d55c220

[21] Palestinians report several killed in Israeli air raids on Gaza, Al Jazeera, May 2021 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/10/israeli-forces-raid-al-aqsa-compound-live

[22] “Elisabeth Kendall,” Twitter, May 8, 2021 https://twitter.com/Dr_E_Kendall/status/1391036987705077762

[23] “Crowds gather in Ankara in solidarity with Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem” from Telegram, via CyberHUMINT


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