From Strategic Forecasting, Inc:
Growing Risk for Jewish Targets?
By Fred Burton
As the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah rages on, concerns Hezbollah might resort to terrorist strikes beyond the Middle East have been growing. During the past week, we have received several reports -- of unknown credibility -- about Hezbollah activity in various parts of the world, including the United States. In response to such reports (and out of prudence), Israel has stepped up security at its diplomatic missions abroad and requested enhanced coverage from host governments.
The reports of Hezbollah activity also have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorism officials, who are concerned about the possibility of Hezbollah strikes within the continental United States. To be clear, we have received no intelligence indicating that a strike is imminent, or that Hezbollah or its Iranian sponsors have authorized such activity.
There are significant questions to which the answers are unclear. For instance, how much control does Iran have over Hezbollah, and to what degree is the organization autonomous? And precisely what events might trigger a Hezbollah attack, with or without Iranian approval?
Of course, these same questions have been discussed in one form or another since the 1980s. While these questions are important in the geopolitical context, they are not necessarily the most crucial concerns when the issue at hand is the likelihood of attacks against Jewish or Israeli targets within the United States. We believe the threat to such targets is certainly higher today than it was a month ago, directly as a result of the situation in Lebanon -- but in the United States, the chief threat typically has come from "lone wolves" and other groups rather than from Islamist organizations such as Hezbollah.
A History of Attacks
With emotions running very high on all sides of the Israel-Hezbollah issue, it is quite possible that threats to Israeli or Jewish targets could emanate from a wide array of actors within the United States. Web sites and blogs belonging to jihadists and white supremacists have been venting outrage over Israel's military actions in Lebanon, and even many secular Muslims and anti-war/anti-globalization groups have strongly condemned Israel.
Amid such circumstances, it is difficult to say precisely what kinds of targets might be most at risk. However, it can be reasonably inferred that Israeli diplomatic targets and high-profile organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) might be listed, and that prominent Jewish citizens, Jewish-owned businesses, community organizations and religious targets face at least some degree of increased risk during these times. The history of attacks against Jewish people and targets in the United States can be quite instructive. As the following timeline shows, assailants have emerged from a variety of ideological backgrounds -- jihadists, Palestinians, white supremacists and even, in one case, a radical Jew:
Nov. 5, 1990: Meir Kahane, a controversial Jewish figure, was gunned down by El Sayyid Nosair after giving a speech in Manhattan. Several of Nosair's friends and associates were later convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the subsequent New York bomb plot case.
March 1, 1994: Rashid Baz, a Palestinian cab driver, opened fire on a group of Hasidic Jewish boys in a van on the Brooklyn Bridge. Ari Halberstam, a 16-year-old Jewish yeshiva student, was killed; several others were wounded. Baz was arrested the next day and confessed to the shooting.
Feb. 22, 1997: Children in Jacksonville, Fla., discovered a dud pipe bomb at the Jacksonville Jewish Center that had been planted by Harry Shapiro, an orthodox Jew. Investigators believe the pipe bomb was placed on Feb. 13, prior to a visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Feb. 23, 1997: Ali Abu Kamal, a Palestinian, opened fire from an observation deck of the Empire State Building and then killed himself. A Danish citizen was killed in the attack, and several others of various nationalities were wounded. A note Kamal was carrying said the attack was a punishment against the "enemies of Palestine.
June 18, 1999: White supremacist brothers Matthew and Tyler Williams set fire to three synagogues in Sacramento, Calif., causing more than $1 million in damage.
July 2-4, 1999: White supremacist Benjamin Nathaniel Smith went on a three-day shooting spree -- targeting black, Jewish and Asian people -- that started in Chicago and ended in Bloomington, Ind. Smith killed two people and injured nine before killing himself during a police pursuit.
Aug. 10, 1999: Buford O'Neal Furrow Jr. opened fire in a Jewish day care center in Los Angeles, wounding five people. He later killed a Filipino-American postal worker.
Jan. 8, 2002: Michael Edward Smith was arrested after pointing an AR-15 at a synagogue in Nashville, Tenn. Following a high-speed police chase, a search of Smith's house and other locations uncovered a cache of weapons, an anti-tank rocket, explosives and white supremacist literature.
July 4, 2002: Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian national who was in the United States on a green card, opened fire at the El-Al Israel Airlines ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, killing two people and wounding four. Airline security officers shot and killed him at the scene.
April 1, 2004: Sean Gillespie threw a Molotov cocktail at Temple Bnai Israel in Oklahoma City, Okla., in an incident that was captured on film by the synagogue's surveillance camera and a home video Gillespie made.
Oct. 7, 2004: Ahmed Hassan al-Uqaily was arrested in Nashville, Tenn., after attempting to buy weapons from an undercover agent. Al-Uqaily allegedly wanted to "go jihad" and obtain an anti-tank missile with which to target a Jewish school in the Nashville area.
Clearly, a great many of these attacks have come from lone wolf assailants, rather than from traditional "terrorist" or militant organizations.
In some ways, the lone wolf threat is more difficult to counter than that posed by organized groups such as Hezbollah. To be sure, the operatives associated with Hezbollah or Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are generally far better-trained and -equipped, but lone wolves have the great advantage of anonymity -- at least, until they act. Unlike Hezbollah members or MOIS officers, they cannot be spotted and potentially pre-empted by using surveillance.
This stems to a great extent from the surveillance methods used by those in the intelligence business. As a rule, the activities of Iranian diplomats in Western countries are watched closely, as intelligence agents try to determine which of them are, in fact, MOIS officers. The counterintelligence services of the host countries also take a keen interest in the people who meet with suspected MOIS officers. (Most operational meetings take place away from the embassy or consulate.) In the current climate, counterintelligence operations against suspected or confirmed MOIS officers would be intensified, as would efforts to identify MOIS officers who are using nonofficial cover. Thus, there are trails and activities that can be followed -- and in this way, the potential exists for any possible acts of violence to be pre-empted.
When it comes to lone wolves, however, intelligence and security services essentially are flying blind. Because these people work alone or in small cells, there is no control or handler who can be watched in efforts to identify them before they act. Furthermore, there is (by definition) very little in the way of an organization that can be penetrated by confidential informants, and few confederates who might be induced to rat the lone wolf out.
There is some reason to believe that, in a general sense, the threat of lone wolf attacks is on the rise. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government adopted an aggressive stance on militant organizations of all stripes. With the disruption that has resulted, many jihadists and white supremacists -- using the Internet as an enabler -- are evolving toward small-cell or lone wolf approaches.
Lone wolves can be prompted to violence by a number of factors. Hatred and racism are certainly among them, but politics also frequently plays a significant role. As the Baz and Hadayet cases show, Israel's actions can trigger reactionary violence -- especially when the lone wolf perceives those actions as being unjust or brutal.
It is noteworthy that many grassroots or lone wolf actors have been drawn to the jihadist cause out of outrage and indignation over the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as their feelings on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The actions Israel is taking now can be expected to further enflame those sentiments, and might lead to attacks by those who feel an intense need to do something about perceived aggression against fellow Muslims -- or by non-Muslims who simply harbor violent tendencies toward Jews.
Though the methods lone wolves use for selecting certain targets is not always clear, it is significant that the vast majority of those listed above chose "soft targets" -- venues such as synagogues and day care centers that typically lack a strong security presence. In fact, in the 1999 case, Furrow reportedly cased three Jewish institutions in the Los Angeles area before settling on the North Valley Jewish Community Center as his target. He told authorities he did not attack the first three venues because he thought security was too tight.There are clear implications here for the businesses and other organizations that potentially are at risk.
Equally clearly, there are difficult questions that must be faced, unless one dismisses out of hand the notion that any risk exists.While complete security is not a realistic goal for anyone, adequate security for Jewish organizations, companies and people in the United States requires, at the outset, an awareness that they are linked (in the minds of many) to the actions of the Israeli government and military.
It follows logically that security measures should be dialed up accordingly when the Israelis go on the offensive, or in general when tensions in the region spike visibly upward. The difficulty comes with the need to identify an end point -- a resolution that signals that it is time for a "stand-down" order on security. The problem is that there isn't one: Just as the United States has discovered with the post-Sept. 11 "terror warning" system, events and intelligence can justify a sudden move to an "elevated" threat posture, but there is no such thing as "relaxed." Americans live in a perpetual state of yellow and orange.
Translated into the business context, this becomes a nagging question of costs. Jewish organizations have a tendency to dramatically increase security following an incident such as the Sept. 11 attacks or the Furrow shooting. However, after months or years pass without an incident involving one's particular facility, security budgets frequently are scrutinized, questioned and then slashed. "Alert fatigue" takes hold at the financial level.
For security managers, the problem is made all the more difficult by the nature of the work: Unlike other types of investments, the returns on security are sensed mainly in what does not occur. But if no attack is attempted -- or a lone wolf assailant like Furrow rejects a potential target in favor of another that is less protected (particularly without anyone's knowledge) -- it is difficult to prove money has been spent wisely. It is hard to place a value on what has been prevented. Again, these are difficult questions to deal with from a business perspective, and answers can only come on a case-by-case basis.
However, the lessons of history are clear: There exists a perennial threat to Jewish targets within the United States, which is apt to tick upward during times of conflict concerning Israel. And though the threat emanates from a variety of potential actors, there is a common tactical denominator: a tendency to gravitate toward soft, unprotected targets.
Send questions or comments on this article to email@example.com.