The string of terror attacks on Tuesday morning in Ra’anana and Jerusalem is about to dictate a fundamental change in Israel’s response to the terror wave now nearly two weeks old. The cabinet, which was meeting last night, won’t be able to suffice with another stern-faced press conference by the prime minister and defense chiefs. The terrorists are striking at a rapid rate and the public mood is quickly returning to the angst of the early 2000s.
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As a result, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to take a firmer stance. After six straight days of multiple stabbings, an emergency situation is taking shape that requires corresponding defensive measures.
The difficulties facing Israel’s security leaders have not changed. Yes, the two terror attacks Tuesday morning in Jerusalem appear to have been more coordinated and included the use of a gun, and some of the terrorists seem to have known each other. Still, most of the characteristics of the terror offensive hold: stabbing attacks, sometimes combined with car-rammings, in which the perpetrators are young Palestinians without any prior security offenses or organizational affiliations.
In the absence of prior intelligence about their actions, the first time the security forces encounter the terrorists is either during patrols or searches along East Jerusalem’s seam line (the slightly better case), or right after the terror attack (the worst case).
But these explanations won’t satisfy Israelis, and certainly not Jerusalemites, who have to decide whether to send the kids to school tomorrow or to let them take the bus to after-school activities. The unrelenting pace of attacks shows that the police, despite the tremendous effort they’re making, won’t be able to cope with the burden for long. It’s likely that beyond continued attempts to scrounge up more police reinforcements (in addition to the 12 reservist Border Police platoons being called up), the army will have to be called in.
So far, the army seems to have coped well with the violence in the West Bank, while the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to encourage restraint seem to be averting a further escalation there. As long as the main trouble is elsewhere, the army will probably be asked to divert more forces (from the Home Front battalions, for instance) to the seam line and Jerusalem, despite the implications military operations would have for a capital the government pledges will remain united forever. A limited call-up of reserves from military units, for the same purpose, may also be considered.
At the same time, Netanyahu and the security chiefs will also apparently have to take some offensive measures to cool criticism from both politicians and the people that the leaders are being too passive.
The first address for this will be East Jerusalem — including neighborhoods inside the separation barrier and some cut off from the city for the last decade or so. It’s a no-man’s land where neither Israel nor the PA really control things. In the coming days, we will probably see shows of force by the police and the Shin Bet security service in places like Jabal Mukkaber, from where three of the terrorists who struck in Jerusalem this morning hailed.
East Jerusalem will be the address because nearly 80 percent of the attackers in recent weeks have come from there. And operating there would not entail a direct clash with the PA.
Still, events in Jerusalem and the West Bank have a reciprocal effect; clashes in East Jerusalem will radiate to West Bank cities. Given the seriousness of the situation, defense officials’ attempt to halt the imposition of collective restrictions (and punitive measures) on the Palestinian civilian population in the West Bank is doomed to fail.
Near the end of the second week of violence, two symbols gained prominence. The first is a picture of the 13-year-old who was shot and gravely wounded in Pisgat Ze’ev on Tuesday after he stabbed and gravely wounded an Israeli boy of the same age. For the Palestinians, the boy is a victim, and the claim that security forces attempted to execute him in cold blood is fully accepted.
Even Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ longtime spokesman, claimed on Monday that Israeli policemen attempted to murder the Palestinian boy. The picture of the boy lying in a pool of his own blood is often shown alongside a picture of Mohammed al-Dura ducking in the crossfire at Netzarim Junction, the symbol of the second intifada.
The second symbol of Palestinian heroism is the video showing the incident at Damascus Gate a few days ago. The Palestinian is detained for inspection by the Border Police; he then gets up from where he’s sitting, stabs an officer in the neck and is shot to death by several officers.
No one should underestimate the combined effect of these two symbols — the victim and the self-sacrifice — on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank these days. Every such recorded incident gives rise to another wave of copycats, as occurred today. It will probably be many more days before the toothpaste can be put back in the tube.