A senior police official voiced concern Saturday over attempts to launch copycat attacks following the terror attacks that took place in recent weeks, but denied that Israel was facing a security escalation as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.
Friday’s Tarawih prayers, which mark the beginning of Ramadan, passed without incident in Jerusalem’s Old City, but clashes erupted there on Saturday. In contrast to last year, where police erected barriers at various points, merchants were allowed to conduct business as usual at the Damascus Gate and other points in the Old City.
With the completion of the first day of the month-long daily fast on Saturday, police are monitoring public conduct at the Damascus Gate, which was a flash point for violence between police and Palestinians last year, and will continue assessing the situation.
One security official cited an incident in Jerusalem on Friday as proof that recent incidents do not constitute an escalation: A local resident warned police that his daughter intended to carry out a terror attack. The daughter was arrested along with another relative in the area of the Temple Mount, but no weapons were found in their possession. According to a senior security official, the incident shows “the local population’s desire to prevent a deterioration in the situation and to display cooperation on their part.”
Police have been warned of plans to carry out lone-wolf attacks against army and Border Police personnel in the West Bank, but there are no other concrete warnings at present. The key concern is regarding attempted attacks by individuals who are not affiliated with any organization in city centers like the recent attacks in Be’er Sheva, Hadera and Bnei Brak. The security establishment continues to voice concern over the intentions of the Islamic State and Islamic Jihad, which published a statement in reference to the killing of three Palestinians by police special forces in the northern West Bank.
In contrast, Hamas has not sounded any call for members to join the wave of attacks, except for “encouragement from the sidelines,” as a senior police officer described it. “The Arab and the Palestinian public is not leaving home to disturb the peace, which shows that there too, they see these incidents as exceptional,” he said, referring to the recent city-center terror attacks.
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The police believe that there may be copycat attacks in the coming days, and are emphasizing two key locales. The first is Jerusalem, especially the Old City, Damascus Gate and the Temple Mount. The second is city centers, where police have increased their presence, along with Border Police and the army. Police presence has been focused on specific areas where warnings of terror attacks have been sounded.
According to police assessments, special attention should also be paid to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, particularly at points of friction between Jews and Arabs. For example, more personnel are expected to be stationed in the area between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Thousands of Palestinians are expected to visit the beach at Tel Aviv, as they often do on weekends during Ramadan, particularly at the end of the month. The army and security agencies typically turn a blind eye to these visits. Police are concerned that a potential terrorist could slip in with the crowd and carry out an attack.
“We still don’t anticipate an escalation on the ground, rather we expect attempts at copycat actions. Our main preparations are on the level of intelligence, together with the Shin Bet. Operationally, in the field, we are increasing the presence of police and the IDF,” a senior police official said.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev is expected to hold a situation assessment on Sunday along with the police commissioner and other senior police officers. They will assess the police deployment on the first weekend of Ramadan and look ahead toward the rest of the month.
Of the six Border Police companies that Bar-Lev requested to be called up on reserve duty, one was deployed in Jerusalem on Friday; another two will be deployed in the center of the country, mainly in Lod and in the coastal district. Over the past few days, 1,300 IDF soldiers have been deployed alongside police patrols. The police said that the main test will arise in the coming week, throughout the first days of Ramadan.