The murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach Tuesday night seems to have been a well-planned attack, different from most of the stabbings, car-rammings and shootings in the territories in the past few years. The fatal shooting appears to have been the act of a skilled terror cell, not a random crime of opportunity.
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Most recent local terrorist shootings have homemade Carl Gustav (Carlo) submachine guns. Shevach was presumably shot by guns of standard manufacture — either one or two. More than 20 bullets were fired during the incident, presumably from a passing car driven by a person who was not involved in the shooting. Similar previous attacks were preceded by intelligence-gathering. The perpetrators may have used a lookout, stationed on the access road to Havat Gilad, who spied an easy mark — an Israeli, driving alone after dark.
In recent months the Shin Bet security service has apprehended in Samaria, the northern West Bank, several Hamas cells, most of them operated from the Gaza Strip and in the process of planning abductions or gun attacks. That seems a likely direction for this investigation as well. Whether these were Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants or even rogue Palestinian policemen, it seems there was a guiding hand behind the attack.
A similar attack in October 2015 touched off a mini-intifada of stabbings and car-rammings in the West Bank and Jerusalem for several months. Members of a terror cell from Nablus murdered Naama and Eitam Henkin, ambushing their vehicle east of the city. And just as it did two years ago, the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip has announced its desire to ignite a new wave of terror in the West Bank, that will hurt Israel and embarrass the Palestinian Authority.
This latest attack comes at a time of relative calm, after several weeks of unrest triggered by U.S. President Donald Trumps December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israels capital. Successful terror attacks have a tendency to replicate. The effort spent on tracking down this cell is meant not only to prevent it from carrying out additional attacks but also to head off a possible wave of copycat attacks.
Not only the army and the Shin Bet, but also the Palestinians are working to apprehend the cell. The security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority, despite some recent tension with Israel and complaints by the Netanyahu government about financial aid given by President Mahmoud Abbas to terrorists imprisoned in Israel, has resumed its coordination with its Israeli counterparts.
And yet, these are not ordinary days, if such a term can be used in the context of the territories. On the backdrop of the disappointment with Trump and what seems to be the twilight of the Abbas regime, increasing numbers of senior Fatah figures are again expressing supporting for a resumption of the armed struggle. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, warned Fatah leaders Wednesday against such remarks. At Shevachs funeral, several mourners called for revenge. Education Minister Naftali Bennett responded by saying the only revenge would be continuing to build in the territories. Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman promised settlers to regulate Havat Gilad, the unauthorized outpost where Shevach lived.
This area has a blood-soaked history, ever since the beginning of the second intifada. Gilad Zar, the outposts namesake, was the security officer of the Samaria Regional Council. He was wounded in a shooting attack on a road nearby but managed to recover, only to be murdered two months later (in May 2001) in another attack in the area.
When then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paid a condolence call to Gilads father, Moshe Zar, a real-estate dealer (who was seriously wounded himself while fighting under Sharon at the 1956 Mitla Pass battle in Sinai), cameras showed an bewildered Sharon facing being lambasted by the family. The grieving family protested the loss of their sense of security on the areas roads and demanded harsh retaliation against the Palestinians. A few months later the illegal outpost was established and since then, in the shadow of a few attempts by the state to evacuate it, there has been an ongoing legal and political battle over its authorization. Sixteen and a half years have passed since Sharons visit to Moshe Zar and there is no denying that security on West Bank roads has greatly improved since the peak of the second intifada. And yet, emotions still run high and both the texts and the disagreements are nearly unchanged.