The murder of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrahi, who was shot in an ambush on Passover eve on the way to Hebron, seems to have been well-planned.
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Shootings at civilian Israeli vehicles on West Bank roads were one of the most prominent phenomena of the second intifada. Today too, when the territories are quieter, it is not particularly difficult to carry out such attacks. Although the army patrols when traffic is heaviest and thus increases drivers’ sense of security, there is no way to hermetically secure the roads from a determined terrorist.
The array of forces the Israel Defense Forces stations in the West Bank these days is limited from the outset. Terrorist or terror cells collecting intelligence ahead of time can analyze weak points and choose the place from which they are most likely to be able to flee after opening fire before the first patrol arrives in response to a call for help.
The bullets found next to the scene of Monday night’s attack belong to a Kalashnikov rifle. But there are many such rifles in the West Bank, in other hands as well, and the attack could have been the work of a lone gunman, acting independently, or a more organized group attached to an active terror organization.
What is clear is that contrary to the wave of attacks in which four Israelis were killed in the West Bank at the end of 2013, the attack Monday night near the Tarkumiyeh checkpoint seems somewhat better planned and calculated. Even the timing does not seem coincidental; it was probably planned to achieve maximum media coverage, right before the beginning of the holiday.
No organization has claimed responsibility for the murder so far, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad released statements of approval. The attack apparently suits the policy of Hamas, which wants to keep terror on a low flame in the West Bank, which is under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, while generally keeping to the ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip.
What is common to Mizrahi’s murder and previous attacks is the lack of any warning by intelligence bodies. In general, there have been few intelligence warnings in recent years and the fact that there is tight surveillance by the Shin Bet security service and IDF intelligence reinforces the impression that most of the attacks are independently initiated rather than part of an organizational hierarchy, which is easier to pinpoint and monitor.
The IDF fielded large forces on Monday night to hunt for the perpetrator, but the investigation has now moved to the intelligence level and progress depends mainly on what the Shin Bet turns up. The IDF has increased its presence in the Hebron area, in light of the expected arrival in the city of tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers on Wednesday and during the interim days of Passover week.
As of last night the Palestinian Authority leadership had not condemned the attack and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already released a statement condemning the PA’s lack of condemnation. It still remains to be seen whether Palestinian security forces will try to find the terrorist.
At the same time, efforts are still afoot to extricate the peace negotiations between Israel and the PA from their impasse. Clearly a murderous attack at a time when the coalition is squabbling over a massive release of security prisoners reduces the space Netanyahu has to maneuver politically.
Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas continues for his part to send out reconciliation feelers to Hamas. In the coming days a senior Fatah delegation is expected to visit the Gaza Strip to discuss moving ahead on reconciliation between the Palestinian adversaries.