Hamas attack in Israel: European security perspectives – by Maria Chr. Alvanou

As the world is watching Hamas attacking Israel in an unprecedent violent terrorist campaign within its borders, it is important to understand that the situation is also a security crisis from a European perspective. The following points show why Hamas actions are dangerous for European security and parameters that need attention in order to prevent and manage the threat created:

  1. Hamas has abducted young people attending an outdoor music event near the Gaza-Israel border[1]. There are hostages of citizenship other than Israeli. The kidnappings of a French[2], a British[3] and a German citizen[4] are circulated already in the news. European and EU citizens are in the hands of Hamas in immediate danger, possibly already tortured, abused in various ways (even sexual) or worse murdered. A video in social media shows German citizen Shani Louk’s almost naked body, lifeless in the back of a truck, with. Palestinians chanting “Allahu Akbar!”[5]. This situation is not just an Israeli problem. It also constitutes now a security issue for European countries and the EU. It remains to be seen what the involvement of European authorities in this immediate security challenge will be.
  2. Not just the U.S., but also Italy[6], Germany, France (to name but a few states), the EU as a body and the UK declared their solidarity with Israel[7]. Thus, other countries, including European ones, and their citizens can from now on be considered an “ally” to Israel and for this reason a direct, “legitimate” target for Palestinian terrorists to attack in Israel and everywhere in the world.
  3. In any case, Palestinian organisations decades ago made their operational activities an international and European security concern. From attacking European airports (for example: the 1973 Rome and 1985 Rome and Vienna airport attacks), hijacking cruise-ships (e.g., the Achile Lauro) and European flights (e.g., the Sabena Flight 571) to the infamous Munich Olympic Games massacre, Palestinian terrorism has been a security issue for European authorities. The current call made by senior Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif, on Palestinians everywhere to fight the Israeli occupation[8] shows that European countries need to be looking out for possible attacks in their soil. France and Germany are reported to have reinforced measures, securing synagogues and other Jewish sites[9]. From attacks to synagogues, kosher markets to abduction of Jewish citizens, anyone and anything connected to Jewish cultural and religious values (let alone Israeli interests) can be targeted.
  4. There is a bigger question here, troubling European and foreign security experts: Will the terrorist threat be limited into Palestinians carrying out attacks or will it become part of the international Jihad?  The “Palestinian issue”, and especially the contested status of Jerusalem and the Al -Aqsa Mosque have always been somewhere there in the rhetoric of international Islamist terrorists. They had more of a symbolic role, serving for unification and religious identity building purposes, rather than dominating the Islamist cause and call for terrorist violence. Security authorities and especially those who research and monitor online Islamist rhetoric and radicalisation efforts must stay in alert to see if there shall be any swift towards the direction of using the current Palestinian operations as the framework for recruitment and international terrorist action by Jihadists, with special attention to the possibility of lone wolves taking action.
  5. Media report in Greece how in the islands of Kos and Samos celebrations of the attacks carried out by Hamas take place in migrant camps[10]. This is not the first time, as the same thing happened after the January attack a Hamas member carried out outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem[11]. As these celebrations take place in migrant camps, there is the issue of possible radicalisation to violence of the migrant population (especially youngsters) and even recruitment of operatives for future attacks in Greece and other European countries.
  6. After 9/11 and especially after Madrid and London attacks it was mainly Islamist terrorism that European countries focused on. Several other attacks in France and Belgium reinforced the idea that jihadist terrorism was a priority. Al Qaeda and Daesh dominated the game. Later, it became evident that domestic terrorism of the far-right typology also constituted an important threat and some anarchist/far-leftist groups troubled countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Terrorism related to liberation struggles seemed to remain a thing of the past (apart from ETA for Spain, until it announced a ceasefire in 2011 and handed over weapons in)[12], a subject for historians of terrorism. The current situation may very well bring again terrorism related to a liberation cause back on the table for research and countering. It is one of the most difficult terrorism typologies to handle, because of the ongoing “terrorism or freedom fighter” pseudo-dilemma. What is still not understood by many is that the aim does not justify the means. The Palestinian issue is one that can raise sympathy and it is a very complex issue with many parameters that have to do with religion, colonialism, aggression and turbulent events in the Middle East. No one can claim in the region to be free of mistakes. But whatever discussion can (and should) take place regarding ways to understand, resolve the conflict and reach peace cannot serve as an alibi to accept violence against civilians and atrocities committed by Palestinians. One is not a terrorist because of the cause he serves, but because of the operational methods he carries out.  It remains to be seen if the ‘70s debates on the nature of Palestinian violence will be repeated and for how long, especially when images of the desecrated abused body of a German, European citizen, Shani Louk have circulated the media.
  7. Israel is considered a model country when it comes to the efficiency of its intelligence services. Mossad has gained a legendary status. Yet, the current attack seems to have taken Israel by surprise and questions are put forth on the reasons of this intelligence failure. While this will be certainly investigated and there are many discussions also about the role internal political issues may have played to create this weakness in security, there is a lesson here: no one is invincible and groups with lack of sophisticated methods can cause great harm using primitive methods. EU intelligence authorities can use relevant technology and several legal measures that allow them to monitor and thwart/prevent terrorist activity.  But as Israel was caught off guard, this can happen to European countries too. Afterall, we have seen already cases of limitations or failed intelligence sharing and evaluation of critical information in European settings that have had negative events for security (e.g., related to the Paris attack[13])
  8. There has been intense interest in the way technology can be used by terrorists for sophisticated attacks. This interest makes sense. But the recent attack by Hamas brings back old, conventional, never out of fashion and very effective terror methods. Kidnapping attacks for example are one of the best ways terrorists can hit and at the same time they are a complete nightmare for authorities. Hostages create a protective shield and a bargaining chip for terrorists, who can raise demands and push for their fulfilment. And states are cornered, with 2 options, in a lose-lose situation. If they give in to demands they will (probably) get the hostages back, however they create a precedent and they appear weak. The message given is that other terrorists can try to. If they do not give in, then they may pass to terrorists the message of a tough response, yet they will face the cost of outcry for leaving their citizens to their fate in the hands of the terrorists. Palestinian organisations have long used kidnappings, and this is an operational threat European security officials must seriously consider as a problem.

Although parameters of war are never easy to be predicted, few can expect that Israel will lose this war. Hamas has wounded deeply Israel, but there does not seem to be a real capacity to win it militarily and destroy it. On the other hand, Hamas has opened a new page in terrorism, by orchestrating and carrying out a plan that will be studied by terrorism scholars for years to come. And at the same time, the organisation’s latest actions proved how right was the European Court of Justice in 2021 to keep Hamas in the EU terrorist list after a long legal fight[14].

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/07/middleeast/israel-gaza-fighting-hamas-attack-music-festival-intl-hnk/index.html

[2]  https://newsinfrance.com/israel-a-26-year-old-franco-israeli-could-be-detained-by-hamas-according-to-an-mp/

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/hamas-israel-festival-gaza-british-b2426069.html

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/hamas-israel-festival-gaza-british-b2426069.html

[5] https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2023/10/woman-whose-body-was-seen-back-truck-hamas/

[6] https://www.ansa.it/english/news/2023/10/07/italy-condemns-hamas-terror-says-defence-israels-right_b568a3b4-b76e-4239-8e77-496e86b50b30.html

[7] https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20231008-world-in-shock-after-hamas-attacks-on-israel

[8] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/7/sirens-warn-of-rockets-launched-towards-israel-from-gaza-news-reports

[9] https://www.voanews.com/a/germany-france-step-up-security-at-jewish-sites-/7301555.html

[10] https://www.newsbreak.gr/ellada/515244/metanastes-stis-domes-ton-nision-yper-tis-chamas/

[11] https://greekcitytimes.com/2023/01/29/kos-palestinian-migrants-synagogue/

[12] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-eta/basque-group-eta-says-has-completely-dissolved-el-diario-website-idUSKBN1I31TP

[13] For more on the subject regarding Paris attack and intelligence: https://www.rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/paris-an-intelligence-failure-or-a-failure-to-understand-the-limits-of-intelligence

[14] https://www.courthousenews.com/top-eu-court-returns-hamas-to-terror-list-after-3-year-absence/