The murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, killed before their children's eyes, that took place in the West Bank on Thursday night follows a relatively long period of escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel Defense Forces officers are now confirming claims put forward by settlers that there has been a sharp increase in stone throwing and firebombs on the roads in the West Bank. Tensions are rising, and this latest incident is the first deadly shooting since Danny Gonen and Malachi Rosenfeld were killed within the same 10-day period in June.
Despite comparisons to the Second Intifada – and the image of a family vehicle full of bullet holes is reminiscent of similar images from that terrible period – the intensity of violence on the ground and the number of people involved in the incidents still do not match up to the situation back then.
Still, the number of incidents and victims is steadily rising. There have been more Palestinian schoolchildren lying in wait with stones in hand for Israeli vehicles, more clashes with Israeli forces and more nervousness and anxiety amongst Israeli citizens. There's no single explanation for these trends.
There are many reasons behind the situation, including the renewed disagreements over the Temple Mount, the Palestinian Authority's aggressive, confrontational stance (and President Mahmoud Abbas' threats) against Israel amidst the backdrop of the frozen peace process, and the general feelings among Palestinians in the West Bank, namely that diplomatic efforts are amounting to nothing, and that the international community has forgotten them. At the moment, there seems to be no recipe for quickly restoring calm.
Despite Abbas' declaration that the PA is no longer beholden to agreements with Israel, security coordination between the two sides goes on. Though under the circumstances, it's the Palestinian security services' motivation to quell the violence is suspect. The job will likely be left to the IDF and the Shin Bet. One can assume that they will apprehend the murderers, as they did with the shooters in earlier attacks this year. There were two kinds of Palestinian terror cells apprehended earlier this year: Those with no organizational backing or affiliation, or local groups taking orders from and being supported by Hamas.
There remains one murderous terror attack this year that has yet to be solved: The murder of three members of the Dawabsheh family by firebomb in Duma, in July. The Jewish terrorists suspected are still at large. That attack, the previous shootings and the shooting near Itamar last night all took place in the same part of Samaria. Even though there's no clear cycle of attack followed by revenge attack, the Shin Bet is taking the possibility of a revenge attack that could be carried out by right-wing extremists. Tensions among settlers are high – and there's no guarantee that their response to this latest murder will be limited to a demonstration at the nearest junction, and clashes with police and IDF soldiers.
The IDF chain of command within the General Staff and the Central Command has a great deal of experience dealing with incidents like these. Reinforcements will be sent to the sector to secure the roads and ease settlers' concerns for their safety. Last night, IDF Chief of Staff. Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot ordered that four additional battalions be sent immediately to Samaria. Also, Palestinian villages in the area are being circled with troops – a step not taken for many long years. At the same time, many suspects will be arrested in attempts to obtain intelligence information on the murders. Despite all that, the army doesn't intend to drastically change the rules of engagement, or standing orders for soldiers in the West Bank.
Pundits on the right have already claimed that the recent incident in which an officer from the Givaty brigade was removed from his post after subordinates broke photographers' cameras near Furik was a display of weakness that foretold the murder of the Israeli couple in the same place, last night. This is foolishness. Smashing cameras in no way contributes to the fight against terror. It's careless, unnecessary behavior that only diverts the IDF away from its primary mission in the West Bank.