Israel is seen as an oasis of stability in a volatile region. That doesn’t mean we’re not affected by the chaos and unpredictability around our borders. We need to understand every threat in the region and the different terror groups on Israel’s borders in order to prepare for potential challenges. But when the situation next door is always changing, that’s easier said than done. We put together a primer to help make some sense out of our neighborhood.
ISIS in the Sinai
In 2011, a number of Salafi Islamist groups in the Sinai Peninsula banded together to establish Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or “Supporters of the Holy House [Jerusalem].” Positioned on our southern border, they carried out numerous terror attacks, many of them against Israeli civilian and military targets. In November 2015, they pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rebranding themselves “Wilayat Sinai,” or “The Sinai Province” of ISIS.
The terror group clashes with the Egyptian military, and have carried out destructive attacks, including the downing of a plane full of tourists visiting Sharm-el-Sheikh. Despite their differing ideologies, they also cooperate with Hamas, who provides them with training, medical assistance, and equipment. The Caracal Battalion, a coed combat unit stationed on the Sinai border, is on our frontline against the ISIS threat.
Founded in 1987, this Islamist Palestinian terror group rules over the Gaza Strip, on our southwestern border, and aspires to take over Judea and Samaria. They took power in 2007 after a violent struggle with the Palestinian authority. They’ve proudly claimed responsibility for many suicide bombings, rocket and mortar attacks, kidnappings of soldiers and civilians alike, shootings, and other acts of violence, primarily targeting civilians.
Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel
Hamas doesn’t recognize the right of Israel to exist, and see Jihad (including terror attacks against civilians) as a central component in their ultimate goal – establishing an Islamic Palestinian state over the entirety of Israel, Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. The terror group has also spent millions of dollars on terror tunnel infrastructure and strengthening their terror capabilities. These cross-border tunnels are built into Israeli territory in order to carry out attacks and kidnappings in Israeli border communities. Tunnels built across the Egyptian border into Sinai have been used to smuggle weapons and fighters in both directions, and Hamas helps arm, train, and provide medical assistance to ISIS in the Sinai.
Khalid ibn al-Walid Army
The Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, formerly known as the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, or Liwa Shuhadat al-Yarmouk, is an Islamist group on our northern border, native to southern Syria. It was established in 2012, mostly of local families who identified with the Syrian revolution. In May 2016, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade merged with another ISIS-affiliated group to form the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army.
The group is an active arm of the terror group ISIS, and operates in the triangular region of the southern Syrian Golan that shares a border with Israel, and Jordan. They gained notoriety when they took 21 Filipino UN Peacekeepers hostage in March 2013. They often clash with other militant groups on the Golan border, including the Sunni Islamist Jabhat Fatah a-Sham.
Fighting in the Syrian Golan Heights
Jabhat Fatah a-Sham
This Syria-based group entered the arena in 2012 as Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of the terror group al-Qaeda, dedicated to bringing down the Assad regime and establishing Islamic law. In August 2016, they separated from al-Qaeda and changed their name. They regularly engage in violent confrontations with the Syrian army and Shi’ite Hezbollah, and struggle against ISIS and other Sunni groups for domination in the civil war. Stray mortar and rocket fire has hit the Golan Heights, and the battles can easily be seen from its mountains.
Hezbollah paramilitary parade in Beirut
Hezbollah is one of the world’s most active terror groups. Based in southern Lebanon, they’re mostly funded by their Shi’ite ally, Iran. Their laundry list of global terror includes hijackings, large-scale bombings, firing missiles at civilian targets, and weapons smuggling. They’ve carried out terror attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets from Israel to Argentina, from Bulgaria to Turkey. Currently, their major focus is the ongoing civil war in Syria, where they’re supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. As Assad’s ideological ally, they’re fighting Jabhat Fatah a-Sham, ISIS, and various rebel groups. While their focus is on Syria, they boast of a arsenal of at least 100,000 rockets directed towards Israel.