Series of Terror Attacks Have Nothing to Do With ISIS - or Biden

At most, one could say there’s an 'ISIS-like effect' after the attacks in Jaffa, Petah Tikva and Jerusalem, but this has been a common thread throughout the recent intifada.

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Scene of the attack in Jaffa.
Scene of the attack in Jaffa. Credit: Dudu Bachar
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Tuesday's string of serious terror attacks once again showed that this new intifada's statistics are almost irrelevant to any discussion of Israelis’ sense of personal security. For more than two months, the number of attacks has been declining steadily, from dozens per week to about 10 – the vast majority of which occur in the West Bank. There has even been a slight decline in the average number of Israelis killed. But Tuesday's attacks, which included two inside Israel, were enough to erode Israelis’ sense of security anew and restore terror to the headlines.

Tuesday wasn’t the worst day in recent months, in terms of either the number of attacks or the number of casualties. There was a thwarted knife attack and a successful shooting attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, plus stabbing attacks in Jaffa and the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva; in addition, a Palestinian woman with a knife in her possession was arrested at an army checkpoint in the West Bank. Altogether, one American tourist was killed and 13 other people were wounded, five of them seriously. By comparison, there were eight attempted attacks in 12 hours one day in February. 

That so many attacks happened Tuesday was apparently coincidental. The ebb and flow in the number of attacks, which has no discernible logic, reflects the diffuse, unplanned nature of the current violence.

The Palestinian assailants, usually but not always young men (the assailant behind Tuesday's Jerusalem stabbing attack was a woman in her fifties), set out almost spontaneously, with no organized network coordinating their actions. How an attack turns out often depends largely on the rapidity of the response by security personnel and civilians. The assailant behind the Jaffa attack, for example, managed to cause a relatively large number of casualties because he wasn’t brought down for some time, until one civilian hit him with a guitar. 

There’s no real connection between Tuesday's incidents. As far as was known Tuesday night, the assailants didn’t know each other, though the Jaffa and Petah Tikva assailants both came from villages in the West Bank's Qalqilyah area and were both in Israel illegally. It’s very unlikely that the attacks were meant to coincide with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, even though he was in Jaffa when the attack occurred. 

The government talked about an ISIS-style terrorist offensive on Tuesday, but that claim is baseless. Not only were the attacks apparently uncoordinated, but they were of modest dimensions compared to what the Islamic State is doing. Just this week, almost 100 people were killed when it tried to take over a town in Tunisia. 

At most, one could say there’s an “Islamic State effect” here: The group’s violent religious radicalization, expressed in videotaped atrocities, is influencing young Muslims throughout the Middle East. That was already evident in the New Year’s Day shooting attack in Tel Aviv. From this standpoint, Tuesday's incidents were nothing new.

In response to these attacks, the government will have to put on a show of taking strong measures. Presumably, the army will once again close off the attackers’ West Bank hometowns for several days, while the government will once again declare its intent to wage an uncompromising war on those who illegally transport or employ Palestinians in Israel. The Tel Aviv municipality and police will also have to ensure that Jewish-Arab relations in Jaffa don't deteriorate.

Beyond that, however, it seems that nothing will change at this stage. Security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has improved significantly in recent weeks, and the PA is even making efforts to rein in the incitement on its official media and dissuade young Palestinians from carrying out attacks. Israel, despite its leaders’ harsh rhetoric, has no achievable strategic goal in the West Bank and no real desire for a frontal clash with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who in any case is already nearing the end of his reign.

As long as the terror remains at its current level, with painful reminders arriving about once a week, no real change is likely. The attacks will serve mainly as ammunition in Israel’s domestic political wars. The prime minister’s opponents will accuse him of failing to provide security, and he’ll respond that their ideas are no better, while accusing Arab MKs of supporting terror.

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