The Truth behind Hamas’ Cyber Warfare
Hamas operatives successfully managed to hack the cell phones of dozens of
IDF soldiers. However, Amir Rapaport suggests that we take Hamas’ cyber
capabilities in the right perspective. Additionally: what is the real extent
of ISIS activity in Israel?
Amir Rapaport | 12/01/2017
The stories keep chasing one another, but the manner in which the IDF has
‘sold’ the recent revelation of the so-called cyberattack by Hamas against
IDF troopers was the equivalent of admiring the potential of Qassam or Grad
rockets as if they were intercontinental ballistic missiles or satellites.
The IDF summoned the local military correspondents along with the
representatives of the foreign press and delivered a briefing by the IDF
Intelligence Directorate, among others – thereby creating the drama. So what
was the real story, put into the proper proportion? Hamas demonstrated its
ability to employ fake profiles on the Internet and to persuade some IDF
troopers to download a fake chat app which in effect proved to be a basic
These are capabilities every novice hacker is familiar with. They are a far
cry from the cyber warfare capabilities of Israel and other players in the
global cyber warfare arena. They are as far apart as the Gaza Strip is from
So here are a few facts to put everything back into the proper proportion:
the cyber war is going on all the time, and Hamas is a marginal player in
it. The social media abound with fake profiles planted there for countless
reasons, and Hamas did not really invent this modus operandi, nor did it
invent the use of fake apps. The IDF has been familiar with Hamas’ cyber
warfare unit for a number of years, and the serious leak of information
stemmed from IDF having failed to educate their troopers to properly secure
the information they have access to, more than from the technological
capabilities of the enemy – in this particular case.
Another ‘cyberattack’ Hamas had initiated last month was reflected in the
planting of a Hamas visual message in place the broadcast by Israel Channel
10, received through satellite dish by a small percentage of Israeli
viewers. In this particular case, Hamas had transmitted its message using
the satellite frequency – which is neither confidential nor secure. For
economic reasons, the transmission power output for that channel is very
low. Ten minutes had elapsed until the broadcast operators became aware of
the Hamas ‘takeover’, and the visual message was removed by the simple act
of having the signal power output increased.
In a few days, this writer will publish a report concerning another affair
that involved a serious cyberattack against Israel. That attack had been
staged by a cyber enemy that is far more sophisticated than Hamas, and was
foiled by an equally sophisticated Israeli operation. Details will follow.
ISIS in Israel
The hyped reporting of the cyberattack by Hamas was almost on the same scale
as the reporting of the truly important security event of this week: the
horrible truck-ramming attack in the High Commissioner’s Palace neighborhood
in Jerusalem, in which four IDF officers and officer cadets were killed and
15 others were injured.
The attack was staged by a terrorist who is not regarded as an “immediate
suspect”: Fadi al-Qanbar, 28, of Jebel Mukaber, a father of four children,
who was promptly shot and killed by the troopers he had attacked.
The Israeli Security Cabinet convened under the impression of the tremendous
public outrage at the attack. The meeting was attended by the Prime Minister
and the cabinet ministers, including the Minister of Defense and the
Minister of Public Security, the IDF Chief of Staff, the Head of ISA and the
Police Commissioner. Security officials reported the details of the attack
and the encirclement of Jebel Mukaber to the Prime Minister and the other
ministers. The Prime Minister and the other members of the cabinet decided
to have the house of the terrorist demolished as soon as possible and to
reject all applications for unification between members of the terrorist’s
family and relatives from the Gaza Strip and from the Judea and Samaria
district, as well as to withhold the terrorist’s body and avoid handing it
over to the family. Additionally, a decision was made to administratively
detain individuals who openly sympathize with ISIS. Prime Minister Netanyahu
issued a directive to follow reports according to which Palestinians present
at the scene of the truck ramming openly expressed their delight at the
attack and to exercise the full extent of the law with any such individuals.
“According to all of the indications we have, the attacking terrorist is an
ISIS sympathizer,” said Netanyahu.
The cabinet decision reported most extensively is the one dealing with the
administrative detention of ISIS supporters. In this case, too, things
should be put into the proper proportion: the truth is, this decision was
quite a surprise for the defense establishment, and it is fairly difficult
to implement as there is no organization known as ISIS in Israel. The
cabinet decision refers to the administrative detention of “ISIS
supporters”, but it compels ISA to penetrate deep into the minds and
thoughts of individuals, as ISIS is more of a concept than an organization.
Minds cannot be read, of course, so instead, the defense establishment is
currently looking for ISIS supporters who pose a particularly serious risk
mainly according to statements published in the social media and information
provided by field agents.
Under these circumstances, if only a few “ISIS supporters” are
administratively detained pursuant to the cabinet’s decision – they will be
regarded as a lot.
And what about actual activity by ISIS in Israel?
Analyses by ISA, presented more than once to the government ministers,
indicated that there are three hubs of solidarity with ISIS that has
amounted to the establishment of small ISIS cells – in the northern part of
the country, among the Bedouins in the Negev and in Eastern Jerusalem.
As far as the northern hub is concerned, back in 2014, seven Israeli Arabs,
mostly from the Arab city of Sakhnin, were arrested on suspicions of having
been involved in ISIS-related activity.
During their interrogation by ISA, the members of that cell admitted that
they had organized into a nationalistic-religious group around the ideology
known as “Salafi-Jihadism”, which advocates global Jihad, and subsequently
pledged their allegiance to the radical ideology of ISIS.
According to ISA, their investigations indicated that some of the members of
that organization had attended several meetings with a Jihadist Sheikh who’s
well known in the north. In their meetings with the Sheikh, the suspects had
focused on religious studies and on an introduction to Salafi-Jihadism,
while the Sheikh encouraged them to recruit additional members to the
Salafi-Jihadist movement by preaching religion and persuading others to
believe in the way of Jihad.
The members of this unlawful organization held secret and strictly
compartmentalized meetings in which they discussed the Salafi-Jihadist
ideology, the activity of ISIS in Syria and their preparations to go out and
fight in Syria. Among other things, their meetings included training in the
fabrication of Molotov cocktails and the slaughtering of animals as
preparation and mental conditioning for the slaughtering of infidels on
Additionally, the members of the group communicated through the Internet
with ISIS activists in Syria, including Israeli Arabs who had travelled to
Syria in order to join the ranks of ISIS.
In that case, standard legal proceedings were initiated against the member
of ISIS, including indictments, and administrative detention orders were not
used, as this measure is usually intended to prevent security risks in
advance. That was the case with regard to a group of individuals from the
Bedouin village of Khureh near Dimona, some of whom had worked as teachers
in the Israeli educational system, who were subsequently accused of being
members of ISIS.
Pursuant to countermeasures such as the ones outlined above, no significant
ISIS cells are currently known to exist in Israel or in Eastern Jerusalem.
No significant ISIS activity takes place in the Judea and Samaria district
either, as any attempt to establish an ISIS infrastructure over there is
dealt with by the Palestinian security forces, not just by ISA.
According to the information available to the Israeli defense establishment,
the most significant ISIS activists who are bearers of blue (= Israeli)
identity cards are those who had responded to the call for Jihad and
travelled abroad to fight within the ranks of ISIS in the wars in Syria and
Iraq. So far, 60 Israeli Arabs had gone to fight for ISIS. 11 of them were
killed in various battles. The high percentage of deaths and the defeats
ISIS sustained on the battlefield have stopped the recruitment effort by
ISIS in Israel almost completely. This recruitment effort continues, little
by little, through the Internet (and it is reasonable to assume that even
such “fringe” websites contain quite a few fictitious Internet entities
employed by various interested parties).