Analysis |

Attacks in the West Bank: Signs of a Brewing Intifada?

The deadly incidents of the past month may not share the same characteristics that defined past violent flare-ups, but Israel and the Palestinian Authority have to make parallel efforts to contain the unrest or risk a broader conflagration.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Col. (res.) Seraiah Ofer, who was murdered in the Jordan Valley on Thursday night, was the third Israeli killed by Palestinian terror in the West Bank in just three weeks. Earlier last week, Noam Glick, 9, was wounded by a Palestinian intruder outside her home in the Psagot settlement. In the first eight months of 2013, only one Israeli was killed in a terror attack in the West Bank (Evyatar Borovsky of Yitzhar, who was stabbed to death last May). In all of 2012, no Israelis died as a result of terror in the West Bank.

In contrast to previous periods of tension, it is difficult to find a common denominator among these incidents, or to link them to wider developments on the ground. All three incidents - the murder of Ofer on Thursday; of Tomer Hazan, a soldier who was lured by a coworker to a village near Qalqilyah and killed; and the stabbing of Glick - may also have a criminal component, according to military officials.

The investigation of Hazan’s murder is focusing on the possibility that he was lured to the West Bank in pursuit of a questionable business proposal. The incident in Psagot may have begun as a home break-in (Glick said her assailant wore a ski mask, very untypical for terror attacks). Criminal motives are also being examined in the latest murder, in part based on reports that Ofer was heavily in debt.

On Friday, five Palestinians from nearby villages were arrested. Investigators noted that the men seemed to know their way around Ofer’s home, suggesting a prior acquaintance.

The fourth incident - the lethal shooting in Hebron of Staff Sgt. Gal (Gabriel) Kobi - remains a mystery. Intelligence pointing to the identity of the perpetrators has yet to be reported.

In general terms, however, it seems we can still point out some characteristics these incidents share. These include the lack of a clear association of the suspects to a specific terror organization, and also the lack of earlier intelligence warnings. This is related to the fact that the suspects are not members of a known group the Shin Bet security service is tracking.

At least some of the attacks seem like local initiatives carried out by ordinary Palestinians, who don’t necessarily have a background in acts of terror. The trouble is that the success of the attacks - something that is measured, unfortunately, in the loss of life - could spur a wave of copycat attacks, these too without advance warning or the involvement of organizations.

Unlike in the past, the series of attacks hasn’t been perpetrated on the backdrop of obviously mounting frustration in the territories, and has not gone hand in hand with mass protests or threats (veiled or otherwise) of terrorism issued by Palestinian Authority leaders. As such, despite the increase in the number of incidents and number of deaths, the escalation in violence is not described at this stage as an intifada. Israel appears to be still feeling around for the right response to the recent terror attacks.

Even without branding what has been happening in the West Bank as an intifada, it is clear that the developments have shaken the sense of security of Israelis living there. Communities that have enjoyed relative calm in recent years have become targets for terror attacks yet again. Settlers are already demanding the Israel Defense Forces to take a more forceful approach toward the Palestinians. So far, the Israeli army and leaders have resisted these demands, but it is possible that Ofer’s murder will trigger a change in policy. The army must consider bolstering forces in the settlements and communities of the Jordan Valley in order to calm the situation.

On the political front, the rightists in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition – especially members of Habayit Hayehudi, under the leadership of Minister Naftali Bennett – will step up pressure to halt or at least delay the impending release of Palestinian prisoners, which Israel has pledged to do as part of a series of gestures agreed upon alongside the renewal of the peace talks.

Israel will also intensify pressure on the Palestinian leadership to demonstrate progress in its effort to curb terrorism. As part of this effort, Palestinian security forces raided the Jenin refugee camp about a week ago. Israel will demand that the Palestinian Authority conduct more operations of this kind and arrest terror operatives, even though it is likely that Ofer’s killers came from Area C, which is under Israeli military and civilian control.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not interested in a renewed military confrontation. They will have to make parallel, partially coordinated efforts to contain the unrest in order to prevent a broader conflagration. This is to say nothing of the increasingly complicated situation in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is straining under the pressure from Egypt, which is hurting the Strip’s economy and isolating its leadership in the international community.

Hamas is still seeking a way out of this predicament and, despite being averse to entering a clash with Israel, may be tempted to consider a major, strategic terror attack in the hope that a major upheaval may be preferable to its current problems.

The scene of the murder in the Jordan Valley, October 11, 2013. Credit: Gil Eliyahu

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