- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2018

Israel has taken credit for thwarting an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack that targeted a civilian airliner carrying passengers from Australia to the United Arab Emirates.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Wednesday said its military intelligence division, Unit 8200, played a critical role in preventing a previously disclosed plot to bomb an Etihad Airways flight out of Sydney last year.

“The cooperation with the Israeli intelligence community allowed for the transfer of information to the local security authorities and led to the arrest of the suspects, who were in the advanced stages of preparations and close to executing the attack. The foiling of the attack led to saving dozens of innocent lives and demonstrates that Unit 8200 is a player in the intelligence battle against Islamic State,” the IDF said in a statement.

Australian security forces revealed in July that arrests were made in connection with a bomb plot targeting an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi, but Israel’s role in the investigation went unreported until the IDF’s announcement this week.

Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, has since confirmed Israel’s role in preventing the attack.

“We did get intelligence advice from Israel,” Mr. Dutton told Sky News on Thursday. “I can confirm it. In doing so I want to thank the Israelis very much. Obviously we’ve got a very close working relationship with them,” he said.

Australian federal police previously announced that Khaled Khayat, 49, and Mahmoud Khayat, 32, were arrested and charged with two counts of planning a terrorist act in connection with the foiled bomb plot. Israeli authorities alerted Australian counterparts about their plans on July 26, and both men were arrested on July 29, The Times of Israel reported Wednesday.

The suspects had planned to crash the aircraft using a “military-grade explosive” sent by a senior member of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, Australia police alleged previously. They unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle the bomb onboard a July 15 flight and subsequently began hatching a second, fruitless plot to poison people using toxic hydrogen sulfide, according to authorities.

While much of its work is kept under wraps, Unit 8200 collects and processes signals intelligence, or SIGINT, making it akin to the U.S. National Security Agency.

Unit 8200 is the “second largest” national security agency in the world after the NSA, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday, The Times reported.

“The United States is 42 times larger than the State of Israel. Its NSA is not 42 times the size of Israel’s NSA, it’s not even 10 times the size,” Mr. Netanyahu claimed during an event in Munich, the newspaper reported.

Israeli intelligence have thwarted “dozens of terrorist attacks,” Mr. Netanyahu boasted on Wednesday this week, according to the newspaper.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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