Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, revealed Sunday that it had arrested two members of Islamic Jihad terror cell (PIJ) who had been plotting to assassinate Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
According to the Shin Bet investigation, the cell operatives had devised a plan to plant an explosive device on a West Bank road where Liberman was scheduled to travel. The operatives allegedly attempted to purchase bomb-making materials and had sought funding from another terrorist group in the Gaza Strip. But after failing to obtain explosives, the plotters are believed to have made a dummy explosive charge – which was handed over during the investigation – in the quest to garner notoriety and secure funding for future attacks.
“These terrorist intentions reflect the increasing efforts of the PIJ and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to escalate activity with activists in the West Bank,” the Shin Bet said in a statement, noting that this was just one of several plots that had been foiled in the West Bank in recent months. “The defense establishment will continue to act decisively to thwart this activity and warns both Hamas and the PIJ in the Gaza Strip of the implications of carrying out terrorist attacks in the West Bank under the direction or involvement of terror elements from the Gaza Strip.”
The two suspects were identified as Muhammad Ali Ibrahim al-Asakra, 32, and Mahmoud Awad al-Asakara, 25, both from Bethlehem. Awad had already spent two years under administrative detention, from 2015 to 2017, for concocting attacks. Furthermore, Muhammad had already served time behind bars on two separate occasions for his involvement in devising plans to strike IDF soldiers on behalf of the PIJ.
One of the cell member’s family will reportedly receive a prisoner’s pension from Islamic Jihad, a practice that has long stirred steep controversy and was also thrown into the limelight on Sunday.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would dramatically cut funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Under a 1994 economic agreement, Israel annually releases tens of millions to the PA in customs duties collected on goods bound for Palestinian markets that ship through Israeli ports, but much of the money then goes to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives in the form of welfare.
The bill is still required to pass three readings in the Knesset before becoming law. Liberman praised the bill as bringing an end to “this theater of the absurd,” while critics of the move have cautioned it could bankrupt the PA, leading to its ultimate crash and a much larger crisis for Israel.
The PA has routinely defended the payments, insisting that they have a “social responsibility to look after innocent people affected by the incarceration or killing of their loved ones.”