Monday, May 23, 2022

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

Two decades after the Second Intifada — an onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombings in 2000-2003 in which 1,000 Israelis were killed — Israel is again battling a rising tide of Arab terrorism.

With memories triggered of that horrific onslaught, Israelis are again starting to become domestic security analysts, trying to calculate where they should and shouldn’t be going out to shop or eat, whether to use public transportation, whether to send their kids to school, how best to protect themselves and their loved ones from terrorist attack.

Here are five insights into the increasingly dangerous daily reality, its similarities and differences to past waves of terror, and the key challenges ahead.

One: Not a Third Intifada… yet

After Tuesday night’s Bnei Brak attack, in which a West Bank Palestinian man shot dead two locals, two Ukrainian foreign workers and one of the cops who killed him in a firefight, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was now battling “a wave of murderous Arab terrorism.”

He did not speak of a Third Intifada because this is not — not yet — an organized, orchestrated deadly onslaught. Many of the killers of the Second Intifada were inspired, trained, armed and dispatched by a West Bank terrorist infrastructure — a production line of bombers. The Bnei Brak gunman’s links to one or more terror groups are now being investigated; Though evidently inspired by Islamic State, the killers in Beersheba and Hadera apparently planned their attacks themselves.

Two: The porous security barrier

In the immediate aftermath of the Bnei Brak attack, some security officials were quoted saying it was not clear how the terrorist, Diaa Hamarsheh, from near Jenin in the northern West Bank, had crossed into Israel. But the fact is that the West Bank security barrier, whose construction was approved as Israel sought to quell the Second Intifada, has long been porous and inadequately maintained. It is an open secret that any West Bank Palestinian seeking to get into Israel illegally can find routes to do so — via innumerable breaches in the fence, evading insufficient IDF patrols, ignored or unseen by the kind of sophisticated monitoring systems that now ensure the effectiveness of the Gaza border smart fence.

If a deepening onslaught of terrorism by West Bank Palestinians is to be averted, the barrier needs to become the kind of hard-to-penetrate barrier it was originally designed to be, with whatever investment of budget and manpower required. It was emphatically not intended to be the only defense against West Bank-hatched terror, but it was conceived, and has a vital role to play, as a crucial tool in the battle.

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

File: A Palestinian smashes a hole in the West Bank security barrier near Bir Nabala, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, on November 8, 2014. (STR/Flash90)

However, two of the three deadly attacks in the past eight days were carried out by Arab Israeli citizens, all of them connected to and inspired by Islamic State. The jihadist would-be caliphate may have lost its territorial assets, but its ideology lives on, including among a very small, but potentially deadly, Arab Israeli minority — as has been bloodily proven in Beersheba and Hadera.

The Negev Bedouin man who killed four Israelis in Beersheba was an Islamic State activist, who had served time for recruiting for IS and seeking to fight with it in Syria. The Arabs from Umm al-Fahm who gunned down two Border Police officers in Hadera pledged their allegiance to Islamic State in a video before setting out.

No border checks could have denied them access to their Israeli targets, for they were Israelis.

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

The two terrorists who carried out a shooting attack in Hadera on March 27, 2002: Ayman Ighbariah (left), and Ibrahim Ighbariah (right) pictured at Haifa District Court on June 29, 2016, when he was on trial for trying to join the Islamic State in Syria (Screen grab)

Three: Weapons everywhere

For all their exceptional dedication and skill, their sophisticated intelligence-gathering and social-media monitoring, Israel’s security services did not recognize the Beersheba or the Hadera terrorists as representing a clear and imminent danger. But especially in the case of Hadera, sources in the Shin Bet have reportedly acknowledged that they could have done better.

While the Beersheba killer set out with a knife, the two Hadera terrorist cousins ​​had evidently planned, prepared and equipped themselves for their rampage with considerable care. They had new guns — not locally manufactured copies — and a great deal of ammunition. They also reportedly had weapons training; it is not clear where or when. They had intended to kill a great many people, and would have done so were they not confronted and killed by members of a unit of undercover Border Police officers, who happened to be eating at a nearby restaurant.

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

A terrorist seen shortly before he aimed his rifle at a passerby in Bnei Brak, on March 29, 2022. (Screen capture)

For years, a rising tide of violent crime inside the Arab Israeli community was allowed to fester, with dozens upon dozens of killings each year, until the security services began to focus on tackling it in recent months. But huge quantities of weaponry — including hundreds of thousands of guns — have accumulated, and been used to commit murder within the community.

While there’s no telling if an earlier crackdown could have helped prevent Sunday’s attack, it is a certainty that the weapons amassed during the years of neglect will figure in future bloodshed.

Four: Blaming all Arabs is unjustified, counterproductive

A temptation, facing a terrorist onslaught, is to blame and lash out against ever-widening circles: all Bedouins, all Palestinians, all Arabs. It may be tempting, but it is unjustified, misguided and counterproductive. For the security services, the imperative is to thwart the extremists who pose a threat without instituting collective punitive measures that make it easier for the terror inciters to win fresh recruits.

The Beersheba killer was widely condemned within his own Negev Bedouin community. The Hadera gunmen were widely condemned in Umm al-Fahm. There are almost certainly others like them in their communities, but they are not the norm. In the West Bank, there is extensive support for terrorism but, again, this is not yet an intifada — a widespread “popular” uprising, and the security forces’ challenge is to prevent it from becoming one.

(Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned Tuesday night’s Bnei Brak attack, but only under pressure from Defense Minister Benny Gantz; the PA maintains vital security cooperation with the IDF but it also pumps out relentless incitement against Israel, undermining our fundamental legitimacy, as does Abbas repeatedly himself. Hamas, for its part, is delightedly encouraging more terror while keeping Gaza calm for now.)

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

Palestinians celebrate in the West Bank city of Jenin after a terrorist from the area shot dead five people in Bnei Brak, on March 29, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Cynical, politically motivated actions, exemplified by extremist Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir’s incendiary plan to visit the Temple Mount in the next day or two, meanwhile, are transparently intended to fuel the flames of conflict.

They only place more strain on the overstretched security forces, undermining the battle against the terrorists.

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

Amir Khourry 32, from Nof Hagalil, a police officer who was killed in a firefight with a terrorist in Bnei Brak on March 29, 2022 (Israel Police)

Two of the 11 victims of the three attacks, incidentally, were Arab Israelis — Druze Border Police officer Yazan Falah, gunned down in Hadera, and Christian Arab police officer Amir Khoury, who lost his life in the firefight that brought the Bnei Brak attack to an end.

“Incidentally” — because of course there are Arabs serving in Israel’s security forces.

Defeating the new terror wave: The challenge, the temptation, the precedent

Yazan Falah and Shirel Aboukrat, two Border Police officers killed in a terror attack in Hadera, are seen at their base, hours before they were killed on March 27, 2022. (Israel Police)

Five: Israelis’ proven resilience

With the three attacks in eight days, terrorists have killed more people in Israel than in all of 2020 and 2021. The combined death toll of 11 in the attacks in Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak marks the highest number of fatalities since 11 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in April 2006.

Israel has been through waves of terror before, and our nation has mustered the extraordinary will and resilience to hang tough, fight back and prevail.

There is every indication that the terror and bloodshed will get worse — from without and, as was also the case last May, from within — as benighted terror groups and likeminded supporters try to whip up further hostility, and “copycat” killers are “inspired ” to act.

And there is every precedent that they will be defeated.

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