Israel Shifts Anti-Terror Strategy In Age Of ISIS

IDF soldiers training
IDF soldiers training
Giordano Stabile

NABLUS — The historic West Bank city of Nablus spreads out in front of Mount Gerizim, also known as Jebel et-Tur in Arabic. Through his binoculars, Israeli Army Major Elitsur Trabelsi gazes from the mountain's peak at the sprawling urban area below — home to almost half a million people. "Do you notice anything? There aren't any checkpoints anymore," he says proudly.

The Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising that claimed the lives of thousands on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 2000 to 2005, started here. So did the more recent "Knife Intifada," sparked by the fatal stabbings of Eitam and Na'ama Henkin near the Israeli settlement of Itamar in October 2015. Since those bloody days, however, Israel decided to alter its longstanding strategy for combating terrorism.

Major Trabelsi and his Shomon Brigade operate at the heart of one of the West Bank's most difficult and conflict-prone areas. "When I see Berlin, Paris, and other European cities full of concrete barriers I'm taken aback, because it means the terrorists are winning," he says. "Experience has taught us in Israel that the fewer barriers you build and the more freedom of movement you give the local population, the more you empower those who want to live in peace and isolate the extremists."

Israel's anti-terror forces want to end the strategy of besieging West Bank cities to stop terrorism. The road leading down from the Israeli settlement of Har Bracha opens into a roundabout that connects the town to the southern suburbs of Nablus. Large red road signs tell motorists they are about to enter "Area A," the portion of the West Bank under Israeli control. This is one of the hot spots of militant activity where multiple terror attacks have taken place.

Despite its notorious history, there are no military checkpoints to be seen here — only sturdy yellow stakes to protect the bus station. Trabelsi displays a video on his cell phone that shows a minibus ramming into the stakes at high speed, causing it to bounce back. "Attack thwarted," he says.

The other major change in the local anti-terror strategy is in the training of security agents. "We need to understand that the vast majority of Palestinians want to work and care for their families," says Trabelsi. "Now all our soldiers take courses on how to identify the signals that mark a potential terrorist, from their irritability to their dress."

The Israeli authorities have also invested in new intelligence tactics. "We are now faced with terror cells that are much smaller on the surface but are supported by deeper criminal networks," he says. "We thought the attack on the Henkin family was carried out by only three people, but there were 40 accomplices."

Homemade labs

Controlling and monitoring these territories helps the fight against terrorism on the ground, but better intelligence is also key. The most recent wave of terror attacks was inspired primarily by online sources, and intelligence services have moved to counter radicalization on the Internet, where local extremist groups and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) compete to attract Palestinian followers.

The most important military intelligence base in the region — home to the Israeli army's Ayosh Division — is reached via the infamous Route 60, the location of many attacks in the past. "We've neutralized many ISIS terror cells," says another army official at the base, located close to the West Bank capital of Ramallah. The base's cyber-intelligence unit scours social media websites and infiltrates email accounts in a race against time to prevent terror attacks.

"Aspiring ISIS fighters seek external contact with the group's leadership, and this helps us identify them," says the official. "But this phenomenon shows how forcefully ISIS is trying to supplant Hamas and other extremist groups in the Palestinian territories."

We need to be faster and smarter than the terrorists.

Israeli intelligence services attribute two attacks on Israeli soil to ISIS: the shootings on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff street in January 2016 and at the city's Sarona market five months later, with a total of seven casualties. Another trend that has caught the authorities off-guard is the proliferation of unsophisticated homemade weapons. "At one point the price of a gun had fallen to 300-400 shekels ($80-100), and in 2015 we weren't able to find a single clandestine weapons factory. Last year we found 43, and the price of weapons began to rise again," says one intelligence official.

These artisanal weapons factories are often hidden at the back of repair shops or other similar businesses, but some — particularly those that produce explosives — are also run out of private residences. The military base of Tel Hashomer houses a lab that studies homemade bombs and their components.

Colonel Tuval Eron lists some of the ingredients. "Nail varnish remover, chlorine, caustic soda, semolina flour, oxygenated water, antifreeze …" These products are all available at home or in supermarkets, but can be combined to produce powerful explosives like TATP or EDGN — both are three times more powerful than TNT, which was used in the 2016 Brussels attacks.

Colonel Eron detonates half a gram of EDGN in a teaspoon, producing a large flame. "There were 40 kilograms of this in the suitcases detonated in Brussels," he says. The lab also tests the readiness of canine units and machines used by the army and the police to identify explosives at airports.

"We need to be faster and smarter than the terrorists," says Eron. "It's a race against time that never ends."

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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