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Islamic State may be coming to Israel

  • JTATobinJerusalem
When the Islamic State claimed credit for an attack on Israeli soil for the first time last week Friday and vowed to strike again, the response here was not fear but incredulity.
by ANDREW TOBIN | Jun 22, 2017

Israeli officials generally dismissed the militant Islamist group's assertion that it was behind the shooting and stabbing in Jerusalem that left a 23-year-old policewoman dead along with her attackers.

Top US experts on the group said the officials would be wise to think again.

“This is a pattern that we see. ISIS makes threats, very grandiose threats, accompanied by snuff videos and things of that nature,” Rukmini Callimachi, a New York Times reporter who monitors the group online, told JTA.

“Reaction in the West is this is the talk of deranged people, it’s all talk and no action, and then one by one, countries that have been called out, have seen bloodshed on their soil.”

Callimachi and other US analysts warned that the Islamic State rarely bluffs about attacks. The group has long vowed to destroy the Jewish State, they said, and it may finally be following through.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, claimed responsibility soon after the attack, which involved a pair of co-ordinated assaults by three West Bank Palestinians in and around the Old City, last week Friday night. Through its official online news agency, the Islamic State announced that "lions of the caliphate carried out a blessed attack on a gathering of Jews in al-Quds,” referring to Jerusalem by its Arabic name. It warned the attack "will not be the last".

Hamas, the militant Islamist Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the Islamic States' claim early on Saturday morning, with a spokesman calling it an "attempt to muddy the waters". The attack was carried out by “two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a third from Hamas”, Sami Abou Zouhri said.

For their part Israeli officials, including the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, and Israel Defence Forces were unimpressed by either group's declarations. They said the attackers appeared to have been part of a local cell with no organisational backing.

“As we understand it, there is no connection between ISIS or Hamas to what happened,” a high-ranking military official told JTA last Sunday on condition of anonymity. “We understand at the moment that it’s a local initiative, a local terrorist cell, without any connection to any terrorist organisation.”

But Callimachi said it was unusual for the Islamic State to falsely claim an attack and it was unclear what the group would gain from doing so in last week Friday's attacks, which she described as “small potatoes". She noted that many attacks connected to the Islamic State are deemed initially to be the work of lone wolves, with evidence of ties to the group only emerging later, often too late to make headlines.

“Contrary to public perception, ISIS does not claim every attack," she said. "They actually have a very good track record - there are far more instances of attacks ISIS did but never claimed, than the opposite.

“It doesn’t make sense that they would want to [falsely] claim this small attack in a territory where they have already been accused of inspiring attacks at a time when they have had major attacks in places like Europe and Iran.”

Callimachi also pointed out that the Islamic State has repeatedly threatened Israel, including in a December 2015 video believed to feature its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group eventually followed through against other countries it menaced, she said, including the United Kingdom and Iran.

Local officials confirmed the group's claims of a car ramming and stabbing in London on June 3 that killed eight people and a shooting in Tehran on June 7 that killed 18, as well as of two deadly attacks in Britain earlier this year.

Following the Iran attack, Michael S Smith II, an adviser on terrorism to the US Congress, had predicted Israel would be next. Increased use of Hebrew on Islamic State communication channels hinted to him that something was afoot. With the group suffering military losses in Syria and Iraq, he said, targeting Israel is a good way to win recruits and distinguish itself from competitors.

Smith speculated that both Israeli and Hamas officials were hesitant to credit the Islamic State with the Jerusalem attack for fear of giving it a propaganda victory. Neither party wants to see Hamas face competition to take a more violent approach to its conflict 

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