By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore correspondent
When the Israeli Defense Forces undertook Operation Protective Edge in 2014, they destroyed more than 30 Hamas tunnels. An unintended result was giving terrorists easy access to Israel from Gaza, said Lieutenant Colonel “Shlomi B.,” an intelligence officer who recently spoke at a Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) luncheon at Beth Judah.
He played a major role in finding and destroying four of those tunnels.
As Shlomi (forbidden by the IDF from giving his real name or being photographed) told the crowd of 150 locals who came to hear him speak, in one tunnel they found three Korean motorcycles as well as stockpiles of weapons–including AK-47s and anti-tank missiles—as well as ammunition.
“The plan was to have six elite Hamas terrorists hop on the motorcycles, drive to civilian areas and use the weapons, causing massive casualties,” he said of the tunnel, which had nine different entrances, including one connected to the yard of a mosque. “What do you do when an enemy puts himself in a holy place?” mused Shlomi.
At the March 6 JCRC program, “Shia v. Sunni: Isis, Syria and More,” Shlomi B.’s mission was to educate local Jewish community members on the motivation and destructive potential of Sunni and Shiite Muslim terrorist groups, which pose an enormous threat not just to Israel, but to the entire world, he said. Although Israel has to “fight the terror more often,” he noted, “Countries worldwide share the same threat.”
For Israel, the magnitude of the threat is almost mind-boggling, given its location amidst Muslim countries with 34 times as many people as Israel and over 340 times as much land, said Shlomi. Some of these Middle Eastern countries are home to terrorists affiliated with organizations that include ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and more.
Shlomi estimated that 35,000 people worldwide died in terrorist attacks in 2015, up from 3,300 in 2000. He added that half of those deaths could be attributed to the two deadliest terrorist organizations. Nigerian-based Boko Haram (whose name literally means “Western education is forbidden”), infamous for kidnapping an estimated 276 Nigerian teenaged girls in 2014, was the deadliest terror organization. It is closely followed by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which claims to be the religious, political and military authority over Muslims worldwide. Both of these groups were founded on fundamentalist Sunni Muslim ideology, as is Hamas.
In contrast, terrorists affiliated with Hezbollah and Iran adhere to Shiite Muslim ideology, said Shlomi. He added that while Shiite fundamentalists were more extreme in their Islam, “in a funny way they are less cruel in the way they fight.” According to Shlomi, this is because Shiite fundamentalism holds that non-Muslims have the right to live, while Sunni extremism does not acknowledge that anyone other than Muslims have a right to exist.
The growth of ISIS—both in its numbers and sophistication—was fuelled by the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, he said. Highly trained Iraqi army officers loyal to Saddam Hussein suddenly found themselves out of a job and ultimately joined ISIS, he noted grimly. Likewise, recent ISIS-sponsored terrorist attacks—such as the exploding of a Russian plane over Egypt and the Paris attacks—have attracted many disaffected Arab youths looking to join a group they perceive to be “winning,” said Shlomi.
“So far we haven’t suffered from a serious terror attack from ISIS in Israel or in the U.S., but we will,” he said.
For Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas represent more obvious foreseeable threats—since both have the ability to bombard Israel with missiles. “If a third Lebanese War started tomorrow, we would have 1,500-1,800 missiles a day going into Israel” from Hezbollah, said Shlomi. With respect to Hamas, he added, “Over 5 million Israelis live within range of Hamas rockets.”
The random stabbings that have occurred in Israel over the past year, and the frustrations the authorities have had in curbing these, offer a window into why terrorism rooted in Muslim fundamentalism is so hard to combat. The perpetrators know that “the IDF will kill you and destroy your house. But Hamas will give money to your family. Hamas will pay to rebuild your house and give a salary to your family—and Iran will too.”
What this means: Not only are perpetrators prepared to die, but they also recognize that their deaths will benefit their families–and therein lies the problem when it comes to fighting terrorists.
“The basic assumption in war is that no one wants to die,” he said, but with the stabbings, as with most terrorist acts, the attacker does want to die. “This is what makes war in the Middle East so complicated. You can’t tell if you’ve won if your enemy wants to die.”
“All of us in the Western world have the same enemy—one that treasures death more than life,” said Shlomi. “People that treasure death more than life are people who are almost impossible to defeat.”