Shin Bet warns Hamas may be plotting West Bank takeover — report

The head of the Shin Bet security service on Sunday warned that the Hamas terrorist group is poised to take over the West Bank from the “very weak” Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the ruling Palestinian Authority, according to a television report.

Nadav Argaman was quoted by Hadashot news as saying the ongoing reconciliation between the two groups was “not going to succeed, even if it takes a little more time.”

The Shin Bet chief was speaking in a closed-door session of the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Sunday morning, though details of his remarks have been leaked to reporters throughout the day.

Head of the Shin Bet security service, Nadav Argaman, right, speaks at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which is led by Likud MK Avi Dichter, left, on December 24, 2017. (Screen capture)

“Abu Mazen is very weak,” Argaman reportedly said, using Abbas’s nom de guerre. “In the case of a regime change, there’s a chance that Hamas will take over for him because of his weakness.”

The TV report said the Shin Bet chief told lawmakers it was “not impossible that [Hamas political chief] Ismail Haniyeh or [Hamas Gaza chief] Yahya Sinwar will take control of the West Bank.”

Argaman warned that “Hamas is trying with all its strength to carry out attacks in the West Bank and to disturb the stability of the Palestinian Authority.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

According to a statement put out by the Knesset committee, Argaman also told the committee members that the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group does not appear to be interested in renewed military conflict with Israel, but is looking instead to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank.

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“This year, we broke up 148 local Hamas cells in the West Bank. This high number of cells shows the increase in efforts by the Hamas high command in the Gaza Strip and abroad,” he said.

“Hamas sees the West Bank as being the main front for terror, with the intent of upsetting the security stability there, but it is having trouble doing that, mostly because of Israel’s efforts to stop it,” he said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pictured here in Tehran with Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, leads the world’s largest Shia country. (photo credit: AP)

The Shin Bet chief said the terrorist group appears to be deepening its ties with Iran, as the Middle East generally divides between the Shiite faction led by Islamic Republic and the Sunni one led by Saudi Arabia.

Argaman, who was presenting his annual report to the committee, noted that while Hamas does not appear to be currently interested in another round of fighting with Israel, “it is preparing for such a scenario.”

He said that the security situations in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are increasingly strained, particularly as a result of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month.

The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, but it enraged the Palestinians, who have repeatedly called for “days of rage” in protest of it. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

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Argaman predicted that it would be a “a highly unstable period for the next six months at least.”

The Shin Bet chief said his security service thwarted hundreds of “significant” terror attacks in the past year and warned that the “relative quiet” in the West Bank and Gaza should not mislead people into thinking that all is well in the region.

Police arrest a protester during clashes at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Lions Gate on July 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In the past year, the security service foiled approximately 400 serious terror attacks, he said, including 13 suicide bombings and eight kidnapping attempts, as well as 228 shooting attacks, 50 bombings and 94 car-rammings and stabbings.

The Shin Bet chief said his security service saw half the number of successful “lone wolf” attacks, compared to last year. In 2016, there were 108 such attacks, while so far in 2017 there have been 54, he said.

The security chief said, in total, Israel arrested 1,100 would-be “lone wolf” attackers in 2017, as compared to the 2,200 people that were arrested last year.

He predicted that “lone wolf” attacks would continue to be a central focus of the security service in the years to come, as it has largely learned to counter organized terrorist groups’ activities.