Safety and Security in Gaza Periphery

Tensions Escalate from Hamas Attacks on Israel

On 7 October, Hamas launched a series of incursions into Israel. The incursions followed a series of sustained rocket attacks from within Gaza commencing about 06:30hrs (local). The rockets hit several cities, including Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Gedera, and Ashkelon. The rocket attacks were followed by what appears to be, a series of coordinated ground, sea and air attacks by an unverified number of militants who crossed the border into southern Israel and commenced attacking towns and settlements.

The escalation between Israel and Hamas, comes after months of violent clashes in Gaza and the West Bank, which has seen hundreds of Palestinian protesters injured. In a statement on 7 October, Hamas leader, Mohammed Deif stated “We have already warned the enemy before. The occupation committed hundreds of massacres against civilians. Hundreds of martyrs and wounded died this year due to the crimes of the occupation.”

In what would appear to be a rare, yet major intelligence failure, Israel appears to have been caught completely unaware of the attack. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed the Israeli people, stating, that the nation had been subjected to a “murderous attack” and that he had ordered the mobilisation of reserves. He went on to say “We are in a war and we will win it”.

In a further development, reports of Israeli positions coming under fire from Lebanon have resulted in retaliation from the IDF.

Coordinated Attacks by Hamas Militants

The initial Hamas attack saw an unprecedented use of coordinated forces utilising missile salvos, seaborne, light vessel insertion, motorcycle and vehicle insertion and airborne insertion by paragliders. Some 20 towns were targeted and it is reported that Hamas militants went door to door targeting Israeli families. More than 300 Israelis were killed and at least 1800 wounded with reports that as many as 200 civilians were also taken hostage, and moved into Gaza to be used as “human shields”. This is a strategic move to try and protect the Gaza Strip from wide spread and large scale Israeli air strikes.

As anticipated, the Israeli response has been swift and vigorous with Israeli Defence Force (IDF) fighter aircraft’s and helicopters undertaking numerous targeted bombing sorties. IDF spokespersons have warned residents in Gaza to seek shelter away from areas that are being targeted by IDF aircrafts. IDF ground forces appear to be mobilising and will, almost certainly, enter Gaza in the coming hours. News footage appears to show columns of Israeli heavy armour moving towards Gaza.

Furthermore, Hezbollah, based in Lebanon have seized the opportunity to launch an attack of their own. They have carried out a shooting at the border and have also claimed to have launched artillery and guided missiles at Israel following IDF air strikes in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah have stated these were done as Hezbollah leadership congratulated Hamas on their successes on 7 October. The IDF responded by firing artillery fire at the Lebanese border and have announced that they will operate in all regions to defend the Israeli citizens.

Analysis of a worsening security situation between Israel-Gaza

Hamas’s attack was coordinated at a time when Israel is vulnerable. As well as Israeli forces being engaged in regular clashes with Palestinian militants across various parts of the West Bank, the attack also came at a time of unpopular political upheaval in Israel. There have been weekly anti-government demonstrations in Tel Aviv practically throughout the entirety of 2023 calling for the both Prime Minister Netanyahu’s resignation and a cancellation of the judicial reforms. This political volatility has led many IDF reservists, to refuse to undertake their military obligations.

Such a coordinated and well-planned attack will have taken Hamas months to prepare for, and it is a major intelligence failure, that Israel did not pick up on any signs that Hamas was preparing for something. The announcement from Hamas that Iran helped support them in this attack is not at all surprising. The timing of the attack is significant, not only has it occurred at around the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, in which Israel also suffered a surprise attack from Egypt and Syria, but it also comes at a profoundly delicate moment in regional politics. This is as, if comments are to be believed, the US backing Israeli and Saudia Arabia, are moving towards normalising ties. This attack and the likely Israeli response, however, will almost certainly further complicate this process, and it is likely the attack was designed to highlight that a normalisation of ties with Israel, without negotiation of a settlement for Palestinians, would not improve Israeli or regional security.

Israel’s failure to see this attack coming will likely prompt an aggressive response from them. Already air strikes in the Gaza Strip have killed at least 234 Palestinians. It is highly likely that the IDF will enter the Gaza Strip, as they seek to not only rescue Israeli citizens but retaliate against Hamas. The vows from the Israeli government to exact a “mighty vengeance” and to “turn them [Hamas] to rubble“ only further increases the likelihood of a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza

Meanwhile, the activity from Hezbollah indicates that the events of yesterday are realistically likely to see Lebanon brought into the conflict making it a broader, wider regional conflict. It is highly possible that Hamas-aligned groups in the West Bank become involved, which would effectively mean that Israel has to fight on a possible three fronts. Israel’s response will not only be shaped by the fact it is reacting to a major intelligence failure, but also by the fact that the current Israeli government is the most right-wing nationalist in its history. As such, there have already been calls to reoccupy and destroy the Gaza Strip. Ultimately, however, for many Israelis, the most damaging element of this attack is that it will have deflated the idea in their minds that due to the billions spent on border security, they were safe and secure.

Solace Global Security Within Israel

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Military Coup in Gabon August 2023

Summary of Military Coup in Gabon

In the early hours of 30 August, the Gabonese Election Centre (CGE) announced that President Ali Bongo had won a third term in office, having received 64.27 percent vote share in Saturday’s general election. However, just after 05:00 local time, a group of senior officers from the Gabonese military announced on television channel, Gabon 24, that they had seized power with the full support of the Gabonese security and defence forces.​

Introducing themselves as members of The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, the officials stated that the election results were cancelled, all borders were closed until further notice and state institutions – the government, the senate, the national assembly, the constitutional court and the election body – were dissolved. ​

Following the announcement, domestic and regional sources reported gunfire could be heard in the capital Libreville. However, as the day progressed, the streets appeared calm, and crowds of  citizens peacefully took to the streets. Videos circulating on social media showed multiple instances of people celebrating and cheering, often in close proximity to the country’s armed forces. So far, there has been no signs of widespread protest or alarm. Several hours after the officers’ announcement, internet access also appeared to be restored for the first time since Saturday’s vote. ​

The Gabonese government has yet to make an official statement, with President Bongo reportedly under house arrest, surrounded by his family and doctors.​

Potential for Political Unrest in Gabon

Ahead of the coup, there was significant concern over potential unrest following Saturday’s presidential, parliamentary and legislative elections that the opposition alleged were plagued by fraud. Questions over the election’s transparency were re-enforced by the lack of international observers, the suspension of foreign media broadcasts, the decision to cut internet service, and the imposing of a nationwide curfew.​

President Ali Bongo and his father, Omar Bongo, have ruled Gabon since 1967, but frustrations with the political dynasty had been growing for several years ahead of Saturday’s election. The Central African nation is a major oil producer, so much so that it is a member of OPEC, as well as being a major exporter of uranium and magnesium. Indeed, the country is home to over one-quarter of the world’s proven magnesium reserves. However, Bongo has done little to channel its oil and other wealth towards the population of some 2.3 million people, a third of whom live in poverty. ​

This is also not the first attempt in recent history to overthrow Bongo as in January 2019 he and the Gabonese government were able to foil an attempted military coup after soldiers briefly seized the state radio station and broadcasted a message saying Bongo, who had suffered a stroke months earlier, was no longer fit for office.

Find further analysis on political instability in West Africa

Situation Analysis by Solace Global

The strength of Gabon’s extractive-based economy means that it is Africa’s third most wealthy country by GDP per capita. However, with large swathes of the country still living in poverty, it is highly likely that the state has failed to transfer much of this wealth to ordinary citizens. It is likely that economic disparities have been one of the major triggers for the coup. This is likely supported by the lack of public resistance and the fact that celebrations have been seen on the streets of Libreville and other major population centres across the country.​

Furthermore, the coup has yet to be characterised by anti-French rhetoric in a similar vein to the recent West and Central African coups in countries like Niger and Mali. However, the coup is almost certainly another problem for Paris in Africa, with multiple French companies operating in the country. Unlike the other coups in Africa, it is doubtful that the Gabonese coup leaders will seek Russian support in favour of maintaining Western relations. Gabon has traditionally had weak ties with Russia and unlike much of Africa, has not been threatened with major insurgencies and security issues. Moreover, Gabon was one of the countries in Africa that voted against Russia at the United Nations in the 2022 resolution on Ukraine.​

Economically, the coup is almost certainly going to lead to price volatility in global oil and magnesium markets. Gabon has strong economic links with both France, and increasingly with China, and it is a major exporter of commodities to these nations. Reports indicate that some foreign companies like the French mining company, Eramet, have already suspended operations in Gabon in response to the coup. It is therefore highly likely that both France and China will be looking for the political situation to be resolved quickly, and there is a realistic possibility of diplomatic involvement from both Paris and Beijing. ​

In the immediate future, it is unlikely that any major protests or armed clashes will break out as the Gabonese security forces are seemingly onside, and most indications suggest the public is too. The turning on of the internet was likely a move to win over the public as well as signal a different approach to governance than the Bongo regime. However, this also presents an increased potential for demonstrations and protests, both in favour and against the coup, to occur as information is spread on social media. There is a realistic possibility of sustained demonstrations which will likely lead to disruption in major population hubs. Borders will likely remain closed for upcoming days, but if scenes remain calm, borders are likely to reopen quicker than seen in Niger and Mali.

Advice for travellers affected in Gabon

  • Although the coup appears to be relatively peaceful, widespread unrest and violence could ignite at any time. Travellers should avoid all ongoing military activity and any large public gatherings as the security situation may deteriorate quickly and without warning.​
  • In the event of significant security development, travellers in Gabon should follow any instructions issued by the government or military authorities. If a curfew is declared it is vital to abide by the curfew rules to avoid any conflicts with security forces.​
  • If violence escalates inside the capital, consider departing from Libreville whilst commercial options are still available. ​
  • Key military and political infrastructure inside the capital are very likely to remain focal points for violence and demonstrations. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice from the local security authorities.​
  • Expect significant travel disruption and an enhanced security force posture inside Libreville in the short-term. Should any opposition movement to the coup materialise, it is likely that flights will be suspended, and roadblocks or vehicle checkpoints will be established.​
  • Always follow all instructions and orders from security forces. ​Where possible, avoid areas of active conflict and remain inside a secure location away from windows. 
  • Ensure that you always carry personal identification documents. Consider making photocopies of important documents in case of confiscation, theft or loss and keep these documents separated from the originals.​​​
  • Emergency services may be unable to support you in the short-term. Be aware of what consular support may be available to you in-country. Many countries do not provide direct consular support in Gabon. The UK’s consular services for Gabon are based in Yaoundé, Cameroon.​
  • Have emergency contact numbers saved on your phone. These should include the local authorities, medical facilities and any consular support. Ensure that mobile phones are charged in case of any losses in electricity.​
  • If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek shelter immediately and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place. ​
  • Monitor the Solace Secure platform and trusted local media for updates relevant to the coup. 

Attempted coup in Niger July 2023

Summary of Attempted Coup in Niger

On the morning of 26 July, multiple domestic and regional sources reported that a potential coup was underway in Niamey, Niger. Early indications suggested that the Presidential Guard had blocked the entrance to the Presidential Palace, and detained President Mohamed Bazoum. Concurrently, government ministries next to the palace were blockaded, with those inside, including the Minister of the Interior, detained.

By early afternoon, the Niger Armed Forces (FAN) and National Guard had both deployed in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace. The FAN and the Presidential office both released statements asserting that the ongoing coup attempt was being driven by “anti-republican” elements and gave the Presidential Guard an “ultimatum” to stand down and release President Bazoum, or face being attacked. Unverified social media reports have subsequently described armoured FAN columns entering Niamey. Further unverified reports later emerged of roadblocks appearing across the city.

The conditions in Niamey remained calm initially, however, as the situation developed businesses were reputedly told to close and residents were ordered to stay at home. Operations at Diori Hamani International Airport currently remain unaffected, with flight tracking data showing that both inbound and outbound flights were operating as normal.

Recent Instability in Western Africa

Since 2020, several coups have taken place across the Sahel region, most notably in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso. The key driver for instability has been the inability of central governments to guarantee internal security from a myriad of insurgencies and terrorist actors. Niger has been increasingly afflicted by the instability affecting the wider region. In the southeast, Niger is battling incursions from Boko Haram and in the west of the country, the government is attempting to contain threats from Islamic State’s Sahel Province.
Due to the external and internal threats posed by these actors, Niger has become a major operating base for Western nations in the region. Indeed, both France and the USA utilise the country as a base for operations in the wider Sahel.
This relationship has grown in significance for Western governments as relations with other states in the region, such as Mali and Burkina Faso, have broken down in the wake of their own respective coups, leading to the expulsion of French forces.

Further strengthening this relationship is the fact that Niger’s President was democratically elected in 2021 and is one of the region’s few remaining democratically elected heads of state. However, in February 2023 protests erupted in the capital, Niamey, with demonstrators expressing their dissatisfaction with a sustained French military presence in the country, with many believing that the foreign presence was either ineffective or had exacerbated security concerns.

Find further analysis on political instability in West Africa

Situation Analysis by Solace Global

At the time of writing, there has been no official statement from Presidential Guard. However, given the recent regional trends, it is highly likely that this attempted coup has transpired due to concerns regarding the deteriorating security of Niger.

This is further evidenced by the fact that the Presidential Guard has also apprehended the Minister of the Interior, who is the person ultimately responsible for policing and internal security in Niger. The recent uptick in attacks near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali likely provided the catalyst for the current situation.

As the situation develops, it is almost certain that key transport routes and critical locations across Niamey will be seized by rival forces. This will include Niamey’s key river crossings, which connect the main part of the city on the eastern bank of the Niger River to its western parts, the international airport, and state TV and radio offices. At the time of writing, it is believed that President Mohamed Bazoum remains in detention.

The success of the ongoing attempted coup remains to be seen. Initial signs suggest that the FAN and National Guard have remained loyal to President Bazoum and are willing to fight. If this remains the case, it is unlikely that the coup succeeds due to the disparity in military firepower between the two sides. This result would ultimately see the Presidential Guard purged.

However, should the coup succeed, civil unrest, both in favour and against, will highly likely occur. A transitional military council will likely take over the government and immediately revise the stationing of foreign militaries in Niger. The removal of the last remaining Western forces in the region will likely create a security vacuum, that will almost certainly benefit the insurgencies and terrorist groups in Niger and the wider region.

Zero Day Exploit

Critical Vulnerability for Microsoft Outlook

zero day vulnerability

Microsoft Outlook has a critical vulnerability Critical 9.8 (CVSSv3) that requires zero interaction to be successful.

Microsoft has released a patch for Outlook.

Threat Name: CVE-2023-23397

Risk Factor: Critical

Date: April 2023

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Solace Cyber security specialists can secure your estate with patching and conduct forensic analysis

What we know so far about Microsoft Outlook zero day exploit

The vulnerability has been exploited by the threat group APT28, also known as Fancy Bear, Sofacy, and STRONTIUM since April 2022.

It was initially reported to Microsoft by the Ukrainian CERT. According to Microsoft, “a Russia-based threat actor” exploited the vulnerability in targeted attacks against several European organizations in government, transportation, energy, and military sectors.

Currently 15 organisations are believed to have been targeted or breached using CVE-2023-23397.

Solace Cyber Head of Incident Response believes with high certainty that this particular vulnerability will be used by other threat actors – equating to a vast quantity of attacks in the coming days to weeks.

As of 16/03/2023 proof of concept code has been developed by security researchers and it is likely to be used in subsequent attacks by other threat actors.

How Zero Day Exploit CVE-2023-23397 works

The attack involves the attacker sending an Outlook note or task to the victim, triggering the notification sound file mechanism, which sends an NTLM negotiation request to the attacker-controlled SMB share. The threat actors accomplish this using extended MAPI properties that contain UNC paths. The vulnerability can be exploited with a simple, specially crafted email, even if the victim doesn’t open the item.

However, it’s worth noting that this vulnerability cannot be exploited with Outlook for iOS, Mac, or Outlook for Android. Nevertheless, it affects all Windows versions of Outlook that are currently supported.  

Who is at risk from the Microsoft Outlook Zero Day Vulnerability

  • Organisations that have on-premises domain controllers and use outlook.
  • Organisations that only use Azure AD only and have no on-premises domain controllers are protected.  

Note: Those at a higher risk include remote workers due to home firewalls that do not block SMB traffic.

Solace Cyber Recommendations to mitigate risk

  1. Immediately patch all Outlook clients to the latest available version (Microsoft released the required software update this Tuesday).

This can be done by emailing all end users to advise a manual update of Microsoft Office (click-to-run) or updating via alternative methods. If you require assistance with auto-patching solace cyber can assist.

  • Launch any office application. Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel or PowerPoint.
  • Select File > Office Account.
  • Update Options > Update Now.
  • Allow update process to complete (Approximate time to complete: < 15 mins)

  1. Additionally, organisations are strongly advised to run Microsoft’s script to look for signs of compromise in user’s mailboxes.

Preferably this is run in audit mode only so that forensic data can be reviewed. If the script produces results it is recommended that you review the UNC paths in the outlook items to ensure no exploitation has occurred. 

  1. Ensure SMB outbound connections are blocked on your organisations firewall.

Speak to a cyber security specialist

Solace Global can conduct forensic audits and patching to secure your estate from Microsoft Outlook zero-day vulnerability

    Alert Plus: Multiple Large Earthquakes Strike Southern Turkey

    Situation Summary: Large Earthquakes in Southern Turkey

    At 01:17 (UTC) on 6 February, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake was detected 30km west-northwest of Gaziantep, Turkey (37°10’26.4″N 37°01’55.2″E). The earthquake struck at a depth of 24.1km and it quickly became apparent that a significant amount of casualties and damage had occurred in Turkey and northern Syria. There have been several substantial aftershocks, eight of which recorded a magnitude of at least 5. Tremors have also been felt in Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon.​

    As of 10:00, at least 1200 fatalities had been confirmed across Turkey and Syria. Images and videos posted to social media and local news outlets indicate considerable damage to infrastructure. In Turkey alone, at least 2818 buildings have collapsed. At 10:24, the region was then struck again by a separate 7.5 magnitude earthquake 4km south-southeast of Ekinozu (37°10’26.4″N 37°01’55.2″E) – roughly 128km north of the earlier epicentre. At the time of writing, it has been reported that the region has experienced at least 100 aftershocks. ​

    According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the area in which the quakes have hit is populated predominately by non-earthquake-resistant residential structures. They are often made of masonry, brick, and non-reinforced concrete frames. As a result, many buildings will have been badly damaged or will have collapsed completely. This means that there will be few places in which survivors can shelter safely.​

    Turkey declared a ‘Level 4 Alarm’ after the initial tremor, which reportedly includes a call for international assistance and support. The European Union has agreed to send rescue teams and is preparing further help for Turkey. US officials are also monitoring the situation and have noted their willingness to help. Rescue teams from India, Russia and Taiwan have also deployed. ​

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described events so far as the nation’s worst disaster since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed over 32,000.  ​

    Intelligence Analysis by Solace Global

    The earthquakes have struck as Turkey prepares for its May elections, which were already seen as some of the country’s most consequential in decades. These earthquakes further add electoral weight, since previous large earthquakes have led to major political changes in the country. In the wake of Turkey’s last major earthquakes, in 1999, voters turned away the incumbent parties in the 2002 elections. These parties were punished as a result of the poor relief and reconstruction efforts, and for the large-scale corruption the earthquake exposed. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his newly formed Justice and Development Party (AKP) party were the major beneficiaries of this political shift. As a result, he became Prime Minster in 2003 and ascended to the Presidency in 2014, a post he currently still holds.​

    The province of Gaziantep, where the epicentre of the earlier earthquake is located, has long been a cradle of support for the AKP and Erdogan. Indeed, support for the AKP and Erdogan has remained high in the province despite the recent economic volatility and uncertainty in the country, and the persistent accusations of corruption levied against the AKP and President Erdogan. Consequently, comprehensive aid and reconstruction efforts are likely to be implemented swiftly. Despite this, contemporary Turkish political history suggests that the AKP, having been the beneficiaries of the 1999 earthquake, may be victims of these ones. This becomes increasingly possible if victims feel that aid is too slow, not sufficient, or that reconstruction efforts are corrupt. ​

    Northern Syria has also been badly affected by the disaster. This part of the country has seen several recent Turkish military incursions; it is also home to some of the last anti-government areas of control. The tremors are almost certain to mean that Turkish offensive military operations in the region are temporarily halted, as the military is redeployed to support disaster relief and search and rescue operations in Turkey. The Syrian government may also seek to fast-track search and rescue and reconstruction efforts in areas in the region it controls in a bid to try and win support across an area which was long a stronghold of anti-Assad movements.​

    Those with interests in the region are advised to note that there remains considerable potential for large-magnitude aftershocks or follow-on tremors.​

    Advice if Affected by Earthquakes in Turkey

    Risk Management for NGO’s in Turkey and Syria

    Alert Plus: Paris Stabbing Attack At Gare du Nord Station

    Situation Summary

    At around 06:45 local time on 11 January 2023, several people were injured after a lone individual attacked commuters at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France. Those present during the incident suggested that the attacker was targeting passengers indiscriminately.

    Police officers responding to the incident reportedly fired several shots at the attacker, who was arrested at the scene and remains in a critical condition. Unverified reports suggest that the attacker was first interdicted by an off-duty police officer, although this has not been officially confirmed.

    The French Interior Minister Gérald Moussa Darmanin has confirmed that six people have been injured in the attack, including one police officer. A security cordon remains in place around the station, with emergency services still on site.

    Police and security officials have not commented on a suspected motive for the attack, and a criminal investigation has been launched.

    In the immediate aftermath of the incident, rail network TER Hauts-de-France noted that rail traffic had been disrupted both to and from Paris Nord, with some services still delayed. Limited disruption has been reported for the local road network.

    Solace Global Intelligence Analysis

    Although officials have not commented on the exact motive for the attack, the methodology (bladed weapon) and targeting preferences (busy transport hub during morning commute) indicate that this incident is highly likely to be terror-related.

    There have been a considerable number of high-profile terror incidents in France in recent years, with most attacks in the 21st century conducted either by violent Islamist extremists, or by individuals with extreme right-wing or racist ideologies.

    The apparently indiscriminate nature of this attack likely suggests that this incident was an act of Islamist terror, since racially- motivated attacks are highly targeted.

    The attack at the Gare du Nord comes less than three weeks (23 December) after a racially-motivated shooting attack killed three at a Kurdish cultural centre and nearby café on the Rue d’Enghien, in the 10th arrondissement, less than 2km from the Gare du Nord station. That incident prompted extensive unrest amongst the local Kurdish population and was condemned by the Kurdish Democratic Council of France (CDK-F).

    Previous Islamist terror attacks in France have been motivated by perceived or genuine attacks against ethnic minority, immigrant or Islamic communities.

    Solace Global Advice

    • Individuals with planned travel to Paris are advised to reconfirm itineraries and expect localised travel disruption, particularly at the Gare du Nord station but possibly at other stations with planned services to central Paris
    • Travellers are advised to avoid the immediate vicinity of the Gare du Nord station as emergency services remain on the scene to conduct their investigations
    • France has a moderate risk of terrorism. Attacks remain realistically possible in the short term, although the presence of additional security force personnel in Paris will very likely mitigate the risk of follow-on attacks in the immediate vicinity of the initial incident
    • Terror attacks in France are likely to be indiscriminate, using explosives, bladed weapons, vehicles, and firearms to target crowded areas, government or security force installations and personnel, civilians, transportation networks, and other high-profile locations including sites of religious significance
    • In the event of a terrorist attack those in the area are reminded to RUN – HIDE – TELL – FIGHT
    • Locations where large groups of residents or tourists are known to gather are at higher risk of attack. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice or guidance from the local authorities or security personnel
    • Exercise increased caution, remain vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activity or items to security personnel as soon as possible
    • If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek immediate hard cover from any incoming gunfire or explosions and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place
    • Monitor the Solace Secure platform and trusted local media for updates

    Alert Plus: Jerusalem Explosions

    Situation Summary

    On 23 November at around 07:00 to 07:30 local time, two explosions impacted the city of Jerusalem. Both explosions occurred at bus stops located in the Givat Shaul (stop ID: 647) and Ramot Junction (stop ID: 4009) entrances to the city. The geolocated site of the Givat Shaul explosion is situated less than 2km from the Knesset and Supreme Court, whilst the Ramot Junction explosion occurred close to the Ramot Alon Jewish settlement.

    At least one person was killed and 17 people were injured during the first explosion at Givat Shaul, whilst the second explosion at the Ramot Junction injured a further five people and damaged a public bus located in the area. The Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah Mount Scopus Medical Center received injured persons from the twin explosions. The individual killed in the combined blasts has been identified as Aryeh Schopek, a 16-year-old Canadian citizen who lived in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem and attended a local yeshiva.

    Initial reports indicate that two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) concealed in bags were responsible for the explosions. Both bags were left at bus stops during the busy hour of the early morning commute. Israeli police later confirmed that the explosions were being treated as a suspected combined terror attack conducted by a “Palestinian” individual or organisation. No independent verification of the claim of suspected Palestinian responsibility for the attack was immediately identifiable.

    Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai confirmed that an investigation into the attack was underway and did not rule out the possibility of multiple suspects. New anti- terror measures were also announced in the aftermath of the attack, including the deployment of police officers with sniffer dogs to all buses in Jerusalem to search for any as-of-yet undiscovered IEDs. Road closures have also been implemented, including a suspension of incoming traffic along Highway One which connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid organised a national security meeting in Tel Aviv at 12:00 local time in response to the attack. Benjamin Netanyahu, the former and incoming prime minister, called for a “strengthening [of] the hands of the security forces” engaged in front-line anti-terror operations in the aftermath of the attack.

    Solace Global Comment

    Attacks on civilian infrastructure occur with some frequency in Israel, and buses have been targeted on multiple occasions over the past three decades. In 2022 alone, multiple terror attacks have occurred in Israeli territory, such as a mass shooting at a bus stop in Hadera in March, a mass stabbing and vehicle-ramming attack in Beersheba in March, a mass shooting in the Bnei Brak district of Tel Aviv in March, and a mass stabbing in El’ad in May. Palestinian and Islamist terror groups are often attributed with responsibility for many of these attacks, even when there is no official claim.

    Though no group or organisation has claimed responsibility for the combined attack in Jerusalem, public attention has turned to Hamas. Mohammad Hamada, a Hamas spokesperson, issued a statement claiming that the “coming days will be intense and more difficult for the enemy” and that “the time has come for the creation of cells that are spread all over Palestine”. The discovery of an IED at the light rail tracks near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station during the evening hours of 22 November has raised concerns that the twin bomb blasts may have originally been intended as a triple, or even larger, attack. Further attacks remain likely in the short term.

    At the time of writing, police reports indicate that the IEDs used by those responsible for the combined attack were packed with nails and likely remotely detonated. This method increases lethality despite the likely low-yield of the IEDs themselves, impacting civilians and surrounding infrastructure with metallic shrapnel. Security forces are certain to engage in an extensive investigation into the attack, and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) incursions into both Gaza and the West Bank are almost certain to occur in the short- term as Israeli authorities seek retribution for the terrorist incident. The explosions came as Netanyahu finalizes agreements with allies to form a new right- wing government that is set to include members of religious and far-right parties. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit political party and Netanyahu’s pick to be the next Minister of Public Security, visited the scene of the first attack and endorsed an aggressive response, calling for the government to “lay siege” to the culprits “even if it’s in the West Bank”. Ben-Gvir’s comments also endorsed house-to-house searches to locate those responsible for the attack with the intention of restoring the “deterrence power” of the Israeli government.

    map of jerusalem explosions

    Solace Global Advice

    • In the event of a terrorist attack those in the area are reminded to RUN – HIDE – TELL – FIGHT
    • Israel has a high risk of terrorism. Further attacks remain likely in the short term, although the presence of additional security force personnel in Jerusalem will likely mitigate the risk of follow-on attacks in the immediate term
    • Individuals with planned travel to Jerusalem are advised to reconfirm itineraries and expect localised travel disruption, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the incidents
    • Travellers are advised to avoid the immediate vicinity of Givat Shaul and Ramot Junction as emergency services remain on the scene to conduct their investigations
    • Further terror attacks in Jerusalem are likely to be indiscriminate, using explosives, bladed weapons, vehicles, and firearms to target crowded areas, government or security force installations and personnel, civilians, transportation networks, the Old City, and other high-profile locations including sites of religious significance
    • Locations where large groups of residents or tourists are known to gather are at higher risk of attack. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice or guidance from the local authorities or security personnel
    • Exercise increased caution, remain vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activity or items to security personnel as soon as possible
    • If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek immediate hard cover from any incoming gunfire or explosions and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place
    • Monitor the Solace Secure platform and trusted local media for updates

    Alert Plus: Istanbul Explosion

    Situation Summary

    On 13 November, at around 16:20 local time, an explosion occurred on Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul. The street is mostly pedestrianised and is frequented by large numbers of both residents and tourists.

    Available footage from the attack indicates that an explosive device was placed in a bag and then left on a bench in proximity to a Mango clothing store. Authorities believe the bag was left by a female suspect, who sat on the bench for around 40 minutes before walking away immediately prior to the explosion. Local authorities have also suggested that a nail bomb was used in the attack, which was designed to inflict mass-casualties.

    As of 14 November, six deaths have been confirmed with a further 81 injured in the attack. Of those injured, 50 have been discharged from hospital, whilst the remainder are still being treated. Although Istiklal Caddesi has now reopened, having been closed in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there is an extensive police and security force presence in the area.

    Turkish authorities announced on 14 November that a Syrian female suspect and a further 46 other individuals had been arrested following security raids at 21 different locations. Authorities have announced their belief that the perpetrator was a Syrian national, Ahlam Albahsir, who was trained as an intelligence officer by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People Defence Units (YPG). Despite this announcement, the PKK’s military umbrella organization, the People’s Defense Center (HSM) has denied being involved in this attack. Syria’s Kurdish-led and US- backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have also denied involvement.

    Whilst no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu claims that the attack was planned in Ayn al-Arab, a Kurdish- majority city in northern Syria. Soylu also stated that the attack was planned by the PKK/YPG, without offering evidence to support his claims. Despite the suspect’s alleged links to the PKK, Turkish officials have not ruled out an attack by the Islamic State (IS).

    Solace Global Comment

    The PKK is classed as a terror group by Turkey, the United States, the European Union, and since 1984 has been engaged in conflict with the Turkish State. Between 2015 and 2017, Turkey witnessed a string of attacks perpetrated by various Kurdish militia groups and IS. The attack on 13 November was the most recent terrorist incident in Istanbul since the January 2017 attack at the Reina nightclub in Ortakoy, which killed 39 people and was claimed by IS.

    Istiklal street has also been attacked previously, with a suicide bombing in March 2016 killing five and wounding a further 36. In that instance, authorities initially blamed the PKK for the attack although subsequently confirmed that IS had been responsible.

    The accusation by the Turkish authorities that the attack was planned by the PKK/YPG in northern Syria will very likely provide the justification for Turkey to launch a new cross-border operation into northern Syria. Since 2016, Turkish armed forces have been involved in northern Syria, targeting PKK/YPG forces. In May 2022 it was announced that Turkey’s planned fifth offensive in the region had been postponed, with some sources indicating this was due to pressure from other NATO allies. It therefore remains likely that Turkish authorities will seek to leverage anti-Kurdish sentiment in order to conduct limited offensive operations across the Syrian border in the short term.

    In June 2023 Turkey will also hold general elections, which will include the election of the President of Turkey and elections to the country’s Grand National Assembly. Previous terror attacks between 2015 and 2017 are widely credited to have brought security issues to the forefront for the elections of 2018. It is highly likely that this attack will result in an increased focus on security in domestic political narratives in the short to medium term.

    In the immediate short term, Istanbul and other major Turkish cities are likely to see an increase in the visible presence of police and security officials. Taksim square and Gezi park are the primary locations in Istanbul for civil unrest, protests and demonstrations, with an elevated security force posture in these areas very likely to remain advantageous to the Turkish authorities in the build up to the general elections next year.

    Solace Global Advice

    • In the event of a terrorist attack those in the area are reminded to RUN – HIDE – TELL – FIGHT
    • Turkey has a notable risk of terrorism. Further attacks remain realistically possible, although the presence of additional security force personnel will likely mitigate the risk in the immediate term
    • Individuals with planned travel to Istanbul are advised to reconfirm itineraries and expect localised travel disruption, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the incident
    • Travellers are advised to avoid Istiklal Caddesi as emergency services remain on the scene to conduct their investigations
    • Further terror attacks in Istanbul are likely to be indiscriminate, targeting crowded areas, government or security force installations and personnel, civilians, transportation networks such as metro stations and ferry terminals, and other high-profile locations including sporting infrastructure
    • Locations where large groups of residents or tourists are known to gather are at higher risk of attack. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice or guidance from the local authorities or security personnel
    • Exercise increased caution, remain vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activity or items to security personnel as soon as possible
    • If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek immediate hard cover from any incoming gunfire or explosions and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place