Study assesses Hamas’ double-agent operations against Israeli intelligence

HamasA NEW STUDY SHEDS light on the little-studied topic of counterintelligence operations launched against Israel by the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas. Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist and nationalist organization with a 35-year history, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. As is typically the case with Middle Eastern non-state actors, Hamas is a complex umbrella organization that combines social-service and administrative functions with armed elements. The latter include internal policing components and a full-time military wing, as well as reserve armed forces.

Although much research has focused on Hamas’ military and non-military components, the organization’s intelligence functions remain under-studied. For this reason, a new article that assesses Hamas’ double-agent operations against Israeli intelligence deserves attention. The article is titled “An Asymmetric Doubling”: A Nonstate Actor Using the Method of Doubling Sources —Hamas against Israeli Intelligence”, and was authored by Netanel Flamer, a lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. It was published last week by the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence.

In his article, Flamer explains the usefulness of double-agent operations for non-state actors engaged in asymmetric conflicts against opponents with superior resources. Non-state actors tend to place tremendous value in double-agent operations, because they offer them the opportunity to “generate achievements of the greatest impact using the most efficient means”. They can do so despite the relative poverty of their resources, as compared to their adversaries. These types of operations employ human intelligence (HUMINT) sources, who work with two opposing intelligence services, only one of which is privy to their dual role. Such sources are known in intelligence parlance as “double agents”.

Hamas’ Early Counterintelligence Efforts

Interestingly, Hamas’ first counterintelligence outfit preceded its own establishment. Upon its founding in 1987, at the peak of the First Intifada, Hamas was immediately able to rely on al-Majd, a counterintelligence apparatus that had been established a year earlier by Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. The mission of al-Majd was to uncover suspected Israeli collaborators among Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The organization was also known for deploying varying levels of torture against suspected collaborators, or against their relatives.

By the early 1990s, al-Majd was in a position to launch a number of confirmed counterintelligence operations. A notable early case is that of Maher Abu Srur, a Hamas member who had been recruited by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. At the culmination of this double-agent operation, Srur actually murdered his Israeli handler at a Shin Bet safe house in Jerusalem. According to Flamer, al-Majd is known to have launched several other double-agent operations against the Shin Bet, with varying levels of success. Importantly, it often is difficult to determine whether al-Majd double agents were deployed after they were first recruited by the Shin Bet, or whether they were originally deployed by al-Majd as “dangles”.

Increasing Professionalization in the 2000s

After 2007, when Hamas assumed control of the Gaza Strip, the organization entered a period of institutionalization and increased coordination among its various elements. Cooperation between its military and intelligence wings was also enhanced. In June of 2007, al-Majd was renamed Internal Security Force (ISF) and established units throughout the Gaza Strip. Since that time, the ISF has operated as the counterintelligence service of the Hamas regime in the territories under its control, as well as beyond.

Flamer explains that the ISF institutionalized counterintelligence processes throughout the Gaza Strip. This enabled it to launch increasingly sophisticated operations —including deception operations— against the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Its double-agent operations, in particular, became more complex and durable: while double-agent operations by the al-Majd lasted a few days or weeks, ISF operations have been known to last as many as two years.

The author argues that the ISF’s increased professionalization has enabled Hamas to gain direct access to the Shin Bet’s operational core, and thus obtain high-quality intelligence on its main adversary. Such intelligence includes details about the Shin Bet’s methods of recruitment, as well as handling, of agents. Additionally, the ISF has gained intelligence about the Shin Bet’s agent communications systems and has even managed to bust Shin Bet agent networks in the Gaza Strip, as well as further afield. Additionally, the militant group has used double-agent operations to misdirect Israeli intelligence activities and protect its assets, while at the same time inflicting physical damage on Israel’s security networks. In turn, such operational successes have, at times, damaged Israel morale and permitted Hamas to “score points in the propaganda wars” between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 August 2022 | Permalink

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