Analysis |

Lone Palestinian Terrorists, Settler Vengeance Worrying Israeli Security Authorities

The fear is that unlike in previous times of tension, right-wing extremists may carry out vengeance attacks, like the deadly arson which killed three members of the Dawabsheh family.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Israeli settlers are prevented by Israeli policemen from entering the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour in the West Bank on October 7, 2015 during a protest against the newest wave of tensions.
Israeli settlers are prevented by Israeli policemen from entering the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour in the West Bank on October 7, 2015 during a protest against the newest wave of tensions.Credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Wednesday’s series of stabbings continue to undermine Israelis' sense of security. One cannot underestimate the psychological impact of a terrorist racing through a residential building seeking victims, or one who attacks shoppers at a mall. Later in the evening, as if to reinforce the impression of an unending offensive, two more Israelis were wounded and a Palestinian was shot after he allegedly tried to run over policemen at a checkpoint near Ma’aleh Adumim.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service have known how to stop most of the Hamas shooting squads in time. The Palestinian security forces, under instructions from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, are now working to minimize violent encounters with the IDF and the settlers.

But there is no effective way to foil a determined 17- or 18-year-old who sets out from a West Bank village with a knife and at best leaves a veiled message on his Facebook page. Dealing with lone terrorists has become the security forces’ No. 1 problem. Though terror groups sometimes embrace slain terrorists after the fact, in most cases the perpetrators carried out the attacks on their own, without any organizational infrastructure behind them.

In contrast to the two previous intifadas, most of the adult population in the West Bank is avoiding confrontation, and to date there have been no recorded suicide terror attempts. Nevertheless, the attacks seem to be coming at a fast and furious pace. Under the intense media scrutiny and the demands by the right-wing branch of the coalition, there is liable to eventually be a confrontation with the PA, even though the IDF is convinced Abbas is trying his best to prevent an escalation.

This time there is another element playing a role that had not been such an issue in the past: the response of the settler population. A major issue that arose during discussions in the security cabinet and by the top security echelons this past week was the rioting by settlers following the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin last week, which included stone-throwing at Palestinian cars, torching of Palestinian property and cursing and spitting at IDF soldiers.

And that’s just the small stuff. The fear is that despite the careful monitoring of right-wing extremists suspected of involvement in the deadly arson in Kafr Duma, which killed three members of the Dawabsheh family, there will be another such attack in revenge for the recent murders. That would spark a conflagration that will be very hard to put out.

In all the interrogations of terrorists arrested after recent attacks, the suspects repeatedly cited two motives — a desire to avenge the Duma murders and the mistaken belief that Israel was moving to seize full control of the Temple Mount, site of Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. In recent days the Prime Minister’s Office has asked right-wing public figures not to ascend to the Mount, which the defense establishment believes would send a calming signal to the PA, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The clouds of the Duma attack are far harder to clear.

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