In 2014, I traveled to the Hebron area twice, a place I had not visited since 1982, to meet an investigative journalist with a security background who carries a weapon legally, whom I shall refer to as Brad (not his real name) who took me around. Brad is based in the Jerusalem area, and his pistol was concealed. My second visit to Hebron with Brad was during Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza, where if anything Hebron, usually known as a tense hot spot, was less active than Tel-Aviv, which was being bombarded with missiles.
Outside of the area of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Brad and I went inside the shop of a Palestinian shopkeeper, with displays of Hebron blown coloured glass items, asking the teenage son of the shopkeeper in casual conversation if he supported Hamas. It was clear from his answer that he did, but his father injected himself in the conversation, suggesting that they supported Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority. As we left the shop, Brad said, "It's clear they support Hamas, but they don't want to say this, since if the PA survives here, they don't want to be on the wrong side."
While I was in Hebron, I wondered how long it would be before ISIS had a terror cell there. After all, Hebron was only 98.2 kilometres from Amman, about an hour's drive away, and already there had been reports of ISIS in Jordan. If extremist winds on the Palestinian side were blowing in the region, ISIS would surely appear in radicalized areas such as Hebron.
In September 2014, when I was back in Canada, Brad told me he was in touch with Mudar Zahran, a secular Jordanian Palestinian dissident now living in exile in the United Kingdom. In 2013 Zahran was indicted by a Jordanian military court and scheduled to be tried in absentia for charges against him, relating to incitement against the ruling political regime of Jordan, etc. Zahran told Brad that ISIS could ultimately prove to be a threat to the stability of Jordan, given that even official Jordanian media was writing about fighters affiliated with ISIS killing several Jordanian police officers and about the fact that in Amman, there were Jordanians parading through cities waving ISIS flags and carrying weapons.
Zahran wrote to Brad in Spetember 2014, "The king [of Jordan] already realizes that he came close to falling to the Arab Spring twice, once in November 2012, when we seculars launched the largest revolution in Jordan’s history, and the second time in September 2013 when President Barack Obama was about to attack Assad and the king and his entire Hashemite clan fled the country. In both cases, Israel did the impossible to bring the king back to Jordan." (Editor’s note: The remarkable statement that the Hashemite clan actually fled Jordan is not something I have read elsewhere, but I have noted that the Jerusalem Post did publish an article by Zahran saying this.)
Sure enough, in January of this year I read with interest and not with surprise that three Palestinian men in their 20's were arrested in Hebron after they were found to identify with the Islamic State group. All three confessed to planning terrorist attacks against soldiers and settlers in the name of Islamic State.
Brad, who speaks Arabic and Hebrew, wrote to me, "Israel’s military censor had cleared this for publication” and “There is much more that has yet to be cleared by the censor.”
Recently Brad has spoken face to face at night with Palestinian Mukhtars (heads of villages or neighborhoods-Muktar means “chosen” in Arabic) from Hebron. Brad has known some of them for some 40 years and he reports that they are "very concerned about the changing climate in the Middle East."
"These mukhtars, who are between the ages of 60-75, have all lost the authority previously granted to them by the British and the IDF and can no longer control the younger generation which is radical and flocking to the banners of HAMAS and ISIS," Brad told me recently.
Brad added that “the Muktars report to me that currently ISIS and HAMAS are in a deadly conflict to take control of the West Bank, Gaza and Northern Sinai and Jordan. The hearts and minds of the younger generation of Arabs in the area are drawn to both organizations, with a present advantage to ISIS who seem to be fulfilling the "Arab Spring" for the disappointed masses of would be mujahideen (Arabic plural form of mujahid which means one who is engaged in Jihad)."
"The Muktars no longer have the respect of the younger generation, who see them as too moderate, and who caution restraint, a line which is not popular amongst the young Hamas and ISIS supporters," he explained.
He further noted, "The Mukhtars find this situation extremely unsettling. My sources among them, who have some of the best informal connections with other family members scattered throughout the Middle East, are worried about the information they are receiving from Jordan that ISIS has won the ‘hearts and minds’ of the tribes controlling Northern Jordan (and therefore the border with Iraq) and that ISIS is growing stronger in southern Jordan (near the strategic triangle which defines the Israel, Jordanian, and Saudi borders.)"
Brad again emailed me on March 12, 2015, after reading in DEBKA file on March 11 about a report that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had just given orders in the previous 48 hours to raid the nine PA-ruled towns of the West Bank and detain Hamas suspects. According to the DEBKA file report Abbas did this after discovering that Hamas had been planning to stage an armed coup against the Palestinian Authority and assassinate Abbas in the process.
The DEBKA file report says that "Of late, Abbas has kept his distance from Ramallah and his seat of government and spends most of his time traveling in foreign countries, especially Arab capitals, where he feels safer under the protection of foreign security services than he does at home."
I asked Brad whether he could confirm with his Palestinian sources this aspect of the recent DEBKA file report about Abbas trying to keeping his distance from Ramallah. Brad emailed me back, "I broached the subject with my Palestinian contacts , both on the level of Mukhtars and also within the Palestinian exile community living abroad, and they confirmed that this is in fact correct."
Brad also wrote that "a Jordanian source, who has extensive tentacles in Jordanian society, has confirmed to me that the King of Jordan has also started to employ escape and evasion tactics for himself and his family and for the same reason."
Brad also added that there is currently a suggestion that “high ranking representatives of the intelligence services of Jordan, Egypt and Israel, who do not have enough trust in Obama’s handling of the ISIS threat, are meeting secretly to determine possible solutions, without Obama. The London-based Arabic Alquds Alarabi, reported this week that Gen. Hafter, who is fighting ISIS in Libya, had recently paid at least two secret visits to Cairo to collect the weapons. After one of those trips, the paper reports, Hafter set out for Jordan where he had meetings with Israeli military and intelligence officials.”