Tel Aviv- At least 83 Palestinians and Israeli-Arab prisoners or detainees are currently held in Israeli prisons on suspicion of activities or links to Salafist jihadist groups, marking a sharp increase from the 12 prisoners held on such charges at the end of 2015.
Most of those arrested were influenced by either ISIS or al-Qaida, and the detainees included both Arab citizens of Israel and some Palestinians from the West Bank, and in most cases, were arrested over Internet contact with ISIS agents abroad or for planning attacks thwarted by Israeli security services.
In other cases, suspects were arrested while attempting to travel to Iraq or Syria to join the ranks of ISIS abroad, while in a handful of other cases, suspects were arrested upon their return to Israel after fighting alongside the group.
Despite the sharp rise in the number of suspects arrested over links to ISIS, Israeli defense officials say only a minority of them have any true connections to the terrorist group.
Most of them are rather thought to be sympathizers with the Salafi jihadist ideology, which advocates for armed struggle and draws inspiration from ISIS, but which has no connection to ISIS leadership in Syria and does not receive direct orders from the group.
Such is thought to have been the case in a truck ramming attack on a popular tourist promenade in east Jerusalem in January, killing four soldiers.
Similarly, two Palestinians who shot dead four Israelis at Tel Aviv’s popular Sarona shopping and dining complex in June 2016 are also said to have drawn inspiration from the group.
While the group has had relatively little success in carrying out attacks within Israel’s borders, it remains active along Israel’s southern border, in the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, and to a lesser extent along its northern border in the Syrian Golan Heights.
Since the beginning of February, there have been at least two instances of rocket fire from the Sinai Peninsula, claimed in both cases by the Sinai-based ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sayna (formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis).
The group last week released images over the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news website purporting to show militants preparing and launching two rockets at Israel, which landed in open areas.
Just weeks earlier, the group claimed to be behind a salvo of rockets fired towards Israel’s Red Sea resort of city of Eilat.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said that such attacks aim to first, disrupt Israel’s cooperation with Egyptian security forces that are waging a military campaign against jihadist militants in Sinai, and second, to disrupt rapprochement between Egypt and Hamas.