The violence raging across Israel and the territories since the murder of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin on October 1 is liable to last for quite a while. This is the emerging assessment of the security establishment, which is having difficulty finding an effective way to stop the stabbings, the most dominant component of this wave of hostility.
The incessant attacks have put the security forces on high alert, shaken up the political system and have made the question of personal security almost the only issue on the national agenda. Even though there was only one stabbing attack Sunday, compared to the three or four daily attacks each of the three previous days, the tension hasn’t lessened in the least.
The stabbing near Hadera along with the car bomb that exploded near Ma’aleh Adumim, the series of demonstrations and clashes in the West Bank and by Israeli Arabs; the call-up of Border Police reserves, the cabinet meeting devoted to the security situation, and the live television and radio broadcasts that preempted other programming, all pushed other urgent issues aside. So this is the picture now emerging in the various areas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
* East Jerusalem remains at the heart of the dispute. Three stabbing attacks in the city over the weekend demonstrated the difficulty the police, even with boosted forces, have in dealing with lone terrorists, who are usually young and have no previous security record. The demonstrations in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods are stormier and more violent than most of the protests in the West Bank. In Jerusalem, more than in the West Bank, women and older adults are also taking part in the disturbances.
Not only are the Palestinian Authority security forces nowhere to be found, but Hamas, the Islamic Movement, and until recently, Fatah, are actively stirring up things. The Temple Mount continues to be a magnet for tensions. Slogans condemning Israel’s alleged attempts to seize control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque are heard at all the demonstrations, both in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
* In the West Bank there has been an effort by the Palestinian Authority to calm things down. The PA’s influence, however, is primarily limited to controlling violent marches that leave Palestinian cities for Israel Defense Forces checkpoints and even there, its success is limited. The PA has forbidden protest strikes in schools and has reduced the anti-Israeli rhetoric on its official media channels. But the discourse on the social media networks is another matter, and there, of course, the PA has no influence. Nor can it have influence on what lone attackers do, especially since many such attackers are residents of East Jerusalem.
What’s interesting is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suddenly stopped accusing PA President Mahmoud Abbas of incitement. He has apparently been reined in by Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service, who have categorically stated that Abbas is not encouraging terror and has been working for several days to prevent it.
* The Gaza Strip is liable to have a decisive impact on the continuation of the current conflict. Since Friday 11 people have been killed in the Strip, including a mother and her small daughter who were killed by an Israeli bombing of a Hamas target early yesterday morning.
Meanwhile, Gaza Palestinians have lobbed a handful of rockets into Israel and are throwing firebombs from the border fence area.
The key question in Gaza is what Mohammed Deif, leader of Hamas’ military wing, wants. In the summer of 2014, his preparations for a serious attack through a tunnel under Kerem Shalom played a major role in dragging the sides into war.
The security establishment believes Hamas now prefers agitating in the West Bank to undermine the PA’s authority there over getting Gaza involved again in a battle of rockets and retaliations. Within Hamas, however, things are very different than last year; the rift between Hamas’ diplomatic echelons (who are flirting with Saudi Arabia) and its military wing (which has returned to the arms of Iran) is evident. It may well be that Deif, if he takes action, will not let the politicians in on what he’s planning.
* Israeli Arabs: Aside from the tension over the Temple Mount and the incitement of the Islamic Movement, there is another source of outrage: A video in which a young Israeli Arab woman carrying a knife was shot at the Afula central bus station.
On Saturday night there were demonstrations in many Arab communities and Sunday’s stabber near Hadera was also an Israeli Arab. Still, at this stage the demonstrations are more moderate and less violent than those of October 2000, right after the start of the second intifada.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion was until last year the head of the strategic division in the General Staff Planning Branch and as such is a frequent guest at meetings of the security cabinet. Last week Orion published an article with one of his predecessors, Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel and Dr. Kobi Michael, for the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. One of their recommendations was that the government not try to delude the public into thinking it can totally stop terror.
“With all the difficulty this involves, the public has to understand the meaning of the reality of managing a conflict under the existing circumstances,” which include religious inspiration and the impact of the ongoing turmoil throughout the Middle East, they wrote.
Senior defense officials are already half admitting that even if a way is found to stop the knifing attacks or if the wave somehow peters out on its own, there isn’t much hope that the security coordination between Israel and the PA, which had held up well over the past seven to eight years, will ever return to what it was. The current outburst is taking place because the PA’s restraining mechanisms have eroded, and now the violence is eroding what’s left of them.