Thursday was the most lethal day since the beginning of the current tide of violence 50 days ago. Five people were murdered — two were stabbed to death in Tel Aviv and another three, including a Palestinian passerby, were killed in a combined shooting and car-ramming attack in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion.
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Thursday’s attacks underscore the nature of the current confrontation. Even when there’s a short hiatus, as there was, perhaps because of the wintry weather at the beginning of the week, it doesn’t necessarily signify a turning point. The violence is constantly changing in frequency and form. It combines car-ramming and stabbing and recently more shooting incidents, while the large demonstrations in the West Bank seem to be waning.
To some extent, the number of casualties is random, unrelated to the number of attacks, and depends on how fast the security forces arrive. A minute or two can be crucial.
In the last two weeks at least six shooting incidents occurred in the West Bank, in which five people were murdered. Most of the terrorists involved in these attacks were acting on their own and did not belong to an organization or group. This makes it harder for the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service to expose their plans in advance. In most cases surviving terrorists say they decided to carry out the attack a few hours or, at most, a day or two before taking action.
The events are best described by the name the army gave the second intifada – Ebb and Tide. Continuing violence will require the IDF to mobilize reserve battalions. The current round of attacks, which has already gone on as long as the war on Hamas in Gaza last summer, may continue for quite a while.
The two perpetrators of Thursday’s attacks came from the Hebron area, as did more than half the assailants responsible for attacks in the past weeks. The violence in East Jerusalem has abated. The murderer in the Tel Aviv synagogue was the first Palestinian with a permit to work in Israel to be involved in a terror attack this time round. The man, who was employed in a restaurant near the scene of the attack, received his permit only a few days ago.
For now the defense establishment has recommended continuing to enable Palestinians to enter Israel legally and work here, and not to impose closures on West Bank communities. The thinking is that changing the permit policy would harm 120,000 Palestinians, including workers in industrial areas near settlements, and drive many of them to violence. This is a calculated risk that defense people recommend at this stage, with the government’s support. But that support may vanish if any other Palestinians with work permits enabling them to be in Israel carry out terror attacks. Any such assailant would endanger the livelihood of tens of thousands of Palestinian families.