By Donkeys And Motorcycles, Primitive Hamas Messaging

Hamas methods for getting information to and from its fighters can pose intelligence challenges for the Israeli army, preventing it from deploying its full technological capabilities.

People on the remains of a destroyed Israeli military vehicle in the Gaza Strip
People on the remains of a destroyed Israeli military vehicle in the Gaza Strip
Ofir Dor

TEL AVIV — When Hamas withdrew from the temporary Gaza cease-fire last Friday and resumed rocket fire towards Israel, it demonstrated that the Hamas military wing is capable of communicating orders to its fighters on the ground, despite the major damages the organization has sustained.

In contrast, in what appeared the preceding Friday as the abduction of an Israeli officer, Hamas actually claimed it has lost contact with its fighters in the field.

Unlike the organization Hezbollah, Hamas has no fiber-optic landline communication, says intelligence expert Shlomo Shapiro, political studies chairman at Bar Ilan University.

"Unlike Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas needs to transmit messages across relatively short distances, and this is its advantage," Shapiro says. "The distance between Gaza's Shifa Hospital, where the Hamas leadership is located, and the border is a few kilometers. So a common way of relaying messages is by messengers on motorcycles or even donkeys. Hamas has not established an independent network, that would enable wire communication to transmit classified messages."

This poses an intelligence challenge for the Israeli army, preventing it from deploying its full technological capabilities. And yet, Israel's intelligence efforts are successful in thwarting Hamas activities, senior sources argue.

To bypass Israel's technological prowess, some Hamas messages are coded and transmitted through radio and TV broadcasts, says Barak Ben Zur of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. "Radio presenters would receive a text that has some disguised meaning, or they might be asked to play a certain song intended to signal a Hamas squad at the north of the Gaza Strip to shoot three barrages into central Israel," says Ben Zur, a terror and intelligence expert and a former senior officer at the Israel Security Agency.

He believes that an organization such as Hamas cannot hide its plans and activities for long. "The power of an intelligence gathering system like Israel's is that it is so vast, it's impossible to keep many things away from it for a long time," he says. "Hamas is no longer a group of several hundred members, but an organization that numbers 15,000 to 20,000 people. There will always be someone who leaks."

Ben Zur also wonders whether the Palestinian group's preference for more primitive communications could be influenced by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations about the capacities of intelligence agencies.

"Snowden's information was undoubtedly an eye-opener regarding the technological capacities of the American and British intelligence, and Israel's are believed to be nearing that," he says. "However, the longer this conflict goes on, the more likely that discipline will weaken. And in an organization the size of Hamas, enforcing total discipline is impossible."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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