This Brosnan Risk Consultants (BRC) Strategic Intelligence Briefing covers the period from May 3rd to May 16th, 2021 and discusses issues related to recent economic, political, socio-cultural, and/or environmental events that may have an effect on property, travel, commercial, logistical, medical, and retail security throughout the United States or other global markets.

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Trajectory of Deteriorating Situation Between Israel and Palestine

security-guard-services-to-prepare-for-civil-unrestThe ongoing situation in Jerusalem that led to renewed conflict between Israel and Palestine in Gaza and elsewhere is not atypical from previous violence in the region. It is being driven by political realities in Israel, along with Palestinian leaders from both Fatah and Hamas using it to gain political advantage locally and internationally. As for how it is playing out on the ground and its impact, the following insights are currently driving and influencing options moving forward.

Israel: The initial violence that took place on the Temple Mount near al-Aqsa Mosque was deliberately instigated by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s desire to divert attention from his political problems and instigate conflicts that would enhance his ability to stay in power. According to senior U.S. and Israeli Officials, the one aspect that Netanyahu did not count on was the ensuing civil unrest that has been ongoing in Jerusalem. The belief from senior officials is that even once a cease fire agreement is reached, this civil unrest will linger – as is evident between ongoing violence and random attacks between Arab-Israelis and Israelis at the present time.

In addition, due to the significant and ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza, Netanyahu reached out to senior U.S. officials and requested a 4-5 day period before engaging in cease-fire discussions for the IDF to mount operations against Hamas in Gaza. The U.S. reportedly agreed to this stipulation, giving Netanyahu the freedom to act along the border in response to the missiles.

Israeli Priorities: The primary goal for the Israelis at this point is to destroy as much of the tunnel network between Gaza and the Sinai along the Egyptian border as they can. The Israelis have a good understanding of the network in place, known as “the subway.” However, they view the current conflict as an ideal opportunity to attack and destroy this system that has been utilized for years by Hamas to obtain weapons and missiles from Hizballah and Iran.

Netanyahu: As for Netanyahu’s position, it has been greatly strengthened domestically as a result of the actions taken to date. According to officials, the fact that Israel is under attack affords Netanyahu the ability to hold onto power and stave off the ongoing political challenges to his leadership.

That said, Netanyahu’s biggest problem is the fact that the al-Aqsa mosque became the focal point for these actions. By doing this he has made the issue more than the traditional Israeli-Palestinian/Hamas tete-a-tete, turning it into a potential struggle over Islam. This has caused the various Arab/Gulf regional players to be compelled to step forward, potentially leading to issues related to the Abraham Accords for nations that preferred not to be involved in the ongoing strife.

Hizballah and Iran: Both Hizballah and Iran put significant pressure on Hamas to answer for the attacks and confrontations at al-Aqsa with the rockets, which were subsequently launched from the Gaza Strip targeting Tel Aviv and its neighborhoods. These missiles continue to be smuggled into Gaza via the tunnels along the Sinai border. For both entities, these events have provided them with a unique opportunity to expand their influence via propaganda ostensibly initiated by Israeli action, thereby providing Iran with a buffer if/when it chooses to reengage with the U.S. and the Biden Administration.

Palestinians (Fatah and Hamas): This issue becomes a win-win for both Hamas and Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin). For Hamas, their strong response and barrage of missile launched against Israel presents them as the defender of the third holiest site in Islam, despite the attacks and losses incurred on them by Israel. For Abu Mazin, these events further support his indefinite delay in the Palestinians elections; elections he was sure to lose. As such, this buys him and Fatah time to reposition itself and possibly further delay elections until “sometime in the future.”

Hamas’ missiles and tactics: According to senior officials, Hamas continues to maintain an inventory of approximately 14,000 missiles, which, at the current pace of attack, would sustain operations at the current level for two months. In addition, while the Israeli “Iron Dome” defense system has been remarkably effective in shooting down between 85-90% of all missiles, Hamas has been learning the weaknesses of the system. In particular, Hamas has observed that by swarming an area of missile, the Iron Dome system is less effective, with more Hamas missiles striking Israeli land and targets.

Further complications: Of further note are the ongoing political and security issues stemming from the failed coup in Jordan. The ongoing investigation and questioning of Bassam Awadallah further complicate the political situation in the area, causing friction between Jordan and the Gulf States. Not only that, but the role of the U.S. also similarly becomes more difficult due to a number of long-term allies involved in this situation and an uncertain endgame, thereby limiting options for pressuring/cajoling allies regarding both or either issues.

Assessment: While there is much concern and discussion of an Israeli invasion of Gaza given the IDF has called up reserves and their forces are positioned around Gaza and throughout the West Bank, it is unlikely that this will take place. Rather, what is more likely over the course of the next days is that Israel will bombard Hamas targets throughout Gaza in order to achieve its goal of destroying the tunnels. At the end of this period Netanyahu will likely be open to overtures by the U.S. and the Europeans to move toward a cease-fire. While it will be a rocky process given the fact that Hamas has been burnishing its position among the Arab world as a force capable of responding to Israeli aggression, the Egyptians will also be able to realize progress in getting Hamas to similarly agree. Much of this decision making will be affected by Hizballah and Iran, but regardless, the goal of undermining the credibility of Israel in the minds of many Gulf and moderate Arabs, who saw the Abraham Accords as a positive and inevitable step, will have been achieved in their eyes.

In it highly likely that we will also start to see a mini-Intifada of sorts continuing throughout not only the Occupied Territories, but also in Jerusalem. The civil unrest that has been growing throughout Israel between Arab-Israelis and Israelis will not likely end any time soon. The level of frustration felt between the sides, the emboldening of the Orthodox community during COVID-19 (the government was unable to get them to accede to government rules related to social distancing and the like), along with the overall pressures that have been growing due to the entire country being on lockdown and dealing with COVID-19 surges, will likely continue to fuel this hatred and conflict for some time.

What does this mean in the U.S.? There will likely be awareness campaigns and social protest in various locations in the U.S. highlighting the U.S. strong support of Israel and portraying the plight of the Palestinian people as subjugation. While both Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israel peaceful protest are a regularly recurring event in many locales, they may receive some boost in actual physical presence due to ongoing events. Protesters (especially Pro-Palestinian) may try to draw some broad connection and similarity to ongoing Social Reform and Injustice themes that have been front and center in the last year here in the U.S., but it is unlikely to gather widespread, grass roots support as the conflict does not resonate personally with large masses of U.S. citizens as does Judicial System and Police reform or Social Injustice/systemic racism themes. That said, businesses located in protest-prone neighborhoods may have an increased need for security guard services.

Major metropolitan areas and locations that do have sizeable local Muslim populations (Dearborn, Michigan, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, St Louis Missouri, and others) may see some increased protest activity, but the likelihood that activity will devolve into riot, social upheaval, major vandalism, or sporadic violence is low. Businesses that may be located in potential hot spot areas may want to prepare for periods of civil unrest.

Conversely, however, due to the prominence and significance of the al-Aqsa Mosque and U.S. traditional strong support for Israel, the perception that this may be an attack on Islam itself may lead to strong sentiment among singular actors. These events could serve as a trigger for those that are ideologically sympathetic to the Palestinian cause or those that are devout but desperate and motivated or radicalized by propaganda, messaging, and misinformation.

The threat that lone actors motivated by these events, may take some self-initiated, inspired act of violence is elevated. These ‘homegrown violent extremists’ or HVE for short, may utilize the ongoing conflict as a rationale for undertaking self-initiated violent activities of their own accord. This is a more likely scenario.

Proactive businesses may consider implementing retail loss prevention strategies during instances of civil unrest and disobedience in areas that may be at risk.

Trump Looking to Run Again

Despite the best efforts of advisors of the former president and those in leadership positions in the party, President Trump is starting to believe that he not only should be the Republican candidate for 2024, but that he has a strong chance of winning. Recent events inside the party, with Liz Cheney being sidelined and pro-Trump elements effectively taking control of all aspects of the party leadership, are further enhancing this belief.

Florida Governor Rick DeSantis, who was not only positioning himself to become the party frontrunner based upon the success he realized during the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida, is also starting to see the writing on the wall. Given dynamics at play in the party and the aggressiveness the leadership is displaying in undermining anyone attempting to usurp Trump’s position, DeSantis has decided to step back for the time being, looking to parlay his currently strong position in support of Trump to be a possible Vice-Presidential candidate.

Elements in the party continue to attempt to encourage Trump to look to business opportunities vice politics as a focus for his energy and ambition, but they acknowledge this is becoming a futile cause. Further undermining their efforts has been the former president setting up his own social media outlet. It is believed that as this develops, and should Trump be able to draw upon supporters to retweet and repost his comments on other platforms, that he will become more energized moving forward.

Concerns with Online/Mobile Gambling

Senior national, state, and local police leaders have expressed their growing concern that legislation in various states that liberalizes and legalizes mobile online betting could be the precursor to much bigger and more concerning issues nationally. They noted that while we are trending toward normalization in the near to midterm, nevertheless, the growth of this kind of gambling could spark a dangerous and destructive trend in the country, exacerbating the shootings and confrontations with police that have been steadily increasing over the past months.

The ease of mobile betting, along with money from government stimulus, could set these trends in motion, making them difficult to stop. As such, once these government programs stop, and people need to get back to work and resume their lives, with all the financial costs associated with it, along with the realities that will be put in place by companies as a result of the new work environments created during the pandemic, we could see many people finding themselves in difficult financial positions, made worse by online, mobile gambling.

Festering Concerns Related to COVID-19

While government security leaders are hopeful that the U.S. is approaching a point where the country can return to normal, there are new concerns focused on the COVID variant that has been growing in India. It has been noted that while the UK variant was of similar concern, the Indian version is much more transmittable, and given the size of the Indian population both in India as well as via the many large expatriate communities worldwide, the Indian variant could spark another resurgence of the disease internationally. The statistic that has raised this concern is the fact that while the UK variant is 1.4 times more infectious than that in the U.S., the Indian COVID variant is 2-3 times more infectious than the UK variant.

Russians Are Still At It

The recent cyber-attacks against the Colonial pipeline by Darkside hackers, likely based in Russia, not only realized concerns about Russia’s potential response to a more aggressive U.S. policy vis-à-vis Russia and its actions over the past years, but it is assessed that such actions will continue unabated. Most recently Russia has been noted not only spreading propaganda via press outlets throughout Europe and Eastern Europe, but it has been aggressively monitoring and looking for opportunities to undermine military exercises taking place in the Balkans and those planned elsewhere. These activities include surveillance and electronic monitoring of activities and the equipment deployed, with it noted that there has been a 10-fold increase in such efforts as of late.

It is assessed that such efforts will not decrease in the near term, but rather likely increase as Russia feels threatened. Efforts by the U.S. to influence nations near to or within Russia’s perceived sphere of influence are of particular concern to President Putin, who has been attempting to reestablish the USSR in a less formal but nonetheless real way. These threats are seen by Putin as real as any military aggression and cause for a response, both proactive and defensively.

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John Franchi

Written by John Franchi

John Franchi is a retired Senior Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, with service both internationally and in Washington DC. John is a recognized expert in geopolitical and transnational issues, counter-terrorism, counterintelligence and cyber issues.

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