Analysis |

Latest String of Attacks Points to a Palestinian Terror Cell, Not Lone Wolves

It’s now clear that there is a cell — or two — moving freely about the Ramallah area; it’s also possible the gunmen are tying their efforts to the month of Ramadan.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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One of the victims of the shooting near the Ein Buvin spring in the West Bank, June 19, 2015.
One of the victims of the shooting near the Ein Buvin spring in the West Bank, June 19, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Monday evening’s shooting attack near the settlement of Shvut Rachel was just the latest in a string of West Bank terror attacks over the last 10 days. The ambush that killed Malachi Rosenfeld and wounded three other people follows the murder of Danny Gonen near the settlement of Dolev, the knife attacks that wounded a border policeman in Jerusalem’s Old City and a female soldier at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, and two other shooting attacks, one in the Jordan Valley and one near the settlement of Beit El.

This comes to four shootings and two stabbings in just 10 days, the worst chain of attacks since the violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank last October and November.

Last year’s surge was blamed on visits to the Temple Mount by right-wing Knesset members and activists that offended Muslim sensibilities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by curtailing the visits, and the violence eased.

But the current wave doesn’t seem to be rooted in anything specific, aside from the Palestinians’ long-standing opposition to the Israeli occupation. Still, it’s not inconceivable that the month of Ramadan, which Muslims are currently observing, has played a role in inflaming Muslim hostility to Israel.

Nevertheless, such an unusual string of attacks may indicate that the perpetrators are not lone wolves with no affiliation to terror groups, as most attacks of the past two years have been. Black-market prices for arms and ammunition in the West Bank have risen sharply. For instance, a Kalashnikov rifle now goes for almost 24,000 shekels ($6,400), and even a single Kalashnikov bullet costs 12 shekels.

Thus the weapons used in the recent attacks, and the money needed to buy them, may indicate that these were planned operations by cells of one or more terror groups. The attacks near Shvut Rachel and Dolev both required much more planning and preparation than did the stabbings and vehicular attacks that characterized previous periods of tension.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also mentioned this possibility Tuesday, when he accused Hamas commanders in Turkey of being behind the attacks that killed Gonen and Rosenfeld, and specifically of providing funds for these attacks. Ya’alon has evidently seen some intelligence to which the public isn’t yet privy.

Hamas’ top military commander in Turkey, Saleh Aruri, is in charge of the organization’s operations in the West Bank. Aruri himself is originally from the Ramallah area, where three of the four recent shooting attacks took place. Five years ago, Israel released him from prolonged administrative detention in exchange for his promise to leave the West Bank, which he did.

Though Aruri is based in Turkey, his subordinates are mainly located in the Gaza Strip. They, too, are originally from the West Bank, but were forced to relocate to Gaza as a condition of their release from Israeli prison as part of the 2011 exchange for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

Last month, Haaretz reported that Turkey had asked Aruri to rein in his anti-Israel activities, fearing they would prove an embarrassment to Ankara. But based on Ya’alon’s statement Tuesday, Turkey’s request had little effect.

On Tuesday, both Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly assailed the Palestinian Authority for not condemning the recent attacks. The PA’s failure to do so presumably stemmed from its assumption that these attacks enjoyed wide support among West Bank Palestinians.

But behind the scenes, security coordination with the PA continues, according to senior officials in the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service. The PA security services continue to collect intelligence and make arrests, with their main target Hamas’ military wing.

Over the last few years, the IDF and Shin Bet have been able to arrest the perpetrators of most attacks within weeks after they occurred, or at most a few months. Nevertheless, it’s now clear that there is a cell — or two — moving freely about the Ramallah area that has already shot Israelis. At least for now, it seems Israel is having trouble ending the wave of attacks.

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