Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

The Threat of Maritime Terrorism to Israel

By Akiva J. Lorenz | Maritime Terrorism

The purpose of this essay is to define maritime terrorism and analyze Palestinian and Al Qaeda’s maritime capabilities, focusing on the 1970s and from 2000 to 2006.

Maritime Terrorism has become a buzzword among security experts over the past seven years. Incidents such as the attacks on USS Cole (October 2000) and MV Limburg (October 2002) demonstrated in the most graphic and chilling way the vulnerability of maritime transportation infrastructures, of both military and merchant shipping.Historically, the world’s oceans have not been a major venue for terrorist activity. According to the RAND Corporation’s terrorism database, maritime terrorist attacks have accounted for only two percent of all incidents since 1969. This number is relatively small due to the fact that security forces have had to deal with traditional terror groups such as the vestiges of political terrorism and separatist-irredentist terrorist groups. All these groups are characterized by their hierarchical, pyramidal structure and centralized command system. Almost all groups have a regional or local operational agenda using terrorism to target specific people or places, which as a result reduce the damage to small numbers or individual casualties.

The sophistication, expense, and training to carry out maritime terrorism necessitate considerable overhead. It requires terrorist organizations to acquire appropriate vessels, mariner skills and, specialist weapons / explosive capabilities. Many terrorist groups are either not located near coastal regions or do not possess the necessary means to carry out maritime attacks. Limited by scarce financial and operational resources, most traditional terrorist organizations have decided not to venture into the maritime arena as the ends do not justify their means. Therefore, following more pragmatic methods, many terrorist groups have preferred to stay with proven successful land based terrorism, especially when selected land targets are not too difficult to attack.

Among the most experienced traditional terrorist groups that possess maritime capabilities are the Middle Eastern Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Lebanese Hezbollah. All the above mentioned terrorist groups have a mutual enemy in the democratic State of Israel.

Having witnessed the first ever recorded attempt to infiltrate Israel by sea on April 14, 19534, Israel has accumulated a vast amount of experience in combating maritime terrorism. Over the past decades, according to a senior Israeli navy officer, Israel has detected more then 80 maritime terror plots. While most attacks have been foiled, terrorist operatives have learned to adapt to this rapidly changing environment. Incidents – such as the attack on INS Hanit (July 14, 2006) – show that groups such as Hezbollah have stayed at least one step ahead of the security services. Furthermore, as the global jihad movement is closing in on Israel and is experienced in maritime terrorism due to its Yemen operations, the danger has increased.

From this perspective, the question needs to be raised whether and how Israel has succeeded in diverting major maritime disasters. Therefore, this essay will analyze Palestinian and Al Qaeda’s maritime capabilities, focusing on the 1970s and from 2000 to 2006. Their past operations will be reviewed, new developments will be discussed, and projections will be given in order to help security services ensure a safer tomorrow.

Download full report: The Threat of Maritime Terrorism to Israel


  1. Introduction

  2. Definition of Maritime Terrorism

  3. Israel, a Maritime Nation

  4. Maritime terror attacks since the 1970s

    1. 1970sDeveloping of Maritime Capabilities by the
      Palestinian terrorist Organizations and the Use of
      Direct Infiltration Attack

    2. 1970s – The use of Mother Ships by Palestinian
      Terrorist Groups

    3. 1970sTerror in the Red Sea

    4. Lesson Learned – relative calm in the 80s and 90s

  5. Maritime terror developments since 2000

    1. Gaza and the Maritime Activity Zones (MAZ)

    2. Gaza – Maritime Suicide Operations

    3. Gaza – Maritime Infiltrations

    4. Gaza –Smuggling Operations

    5. Terror at the Gulf of Eilat

    6. Ashdod port attack

    7. Attack on an Israeli cruise ship in Turkey

    8. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah’s use of Rockets against Ships

    9. From 1970 to 2006 – What has changed?

  6. Terrorist Groups involved in Maritime Terror Attacks against Israel

  1. What are the risks in Israel today?

    1. Weaknesses – Ports

    2. Weaknesses – Containers

    3. Weaknesses – Energy Security

    4. Weaknesses – Vessels

  2. Response

    1. International Response

    2. NATO Operation Active Endeavour

    3. Israeli Response

  3. Conclusion

  4. Appendices

  5. Bibliography

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