Analysis |

Copycat Attacks Maybe, but Israelis Shouldn't Worry About a Third Intifada

While Hamas has been encouraging violence in the West Bank, it is showing total restraint from the Gaza Strip in a bid to avoid being drawn into a direct conflict with Israel

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, on Monday.
Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

A week after the shooting in Tel Aviv suburb Bnei Brak that killed five people, we can begin getting some perspective on the new terror wave. There is a high probability that copycat attacks will continue – also against the backdrop of the religious fervor that sometimes spills over during the month of Ramadan, which is underway. But we’re not talking about the tsunami of attacks à la the two intifadas.

Palestinians in the West Bank aren’t taking to the streets en masse to confront the Israeli security forces. For now, this isn’t a popular uprising but rather an outbreak of terrorism by individuals or at most cells.

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For now, the Palestinian organizations are sitting on the fence. True, the Islamic factions are actively encouraging terrorism, but there are no signs that they have hurled their people into a full-fledged campaign.

Though reality could deliver a decisive blow in the coming days, Israeli intelligence has spotted hesitancy among the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip. At the moment, Hamas is showing total restraint.

Some 7,000 people attended a Land Day gathering last week that was deliberately planned for the Gaza port – far from the Israeli border. Quiet was maintained along the border as Hamas made sure that no one got near the fence.

Israeli soldiers during an operation in Jenin, in the West Bank, last week.Credit: AFP

True, Islamic Jihad has an open account with Israel after the killing of several of its fighters in recent incidents in the West Bank, but for now it appears that the group is in sync with Hamas; rockets aren’t being shot from Gaza. Through its statements, Hamas has been encouraging violence in the West Bank but avoiding friction with Israel in Gaza. Israeli intelligence assesses that the group will only jump in if it sees clear prospects for success.

The three terror attacks began two weeks ago with a car-ramming and stabbing in Be’er Sheva followed by shootings in Hadera and Bnei Brak. The perpetrators of the first two attacks were Arab Israelis who identified with the Islamic State. Since then the Shin Bet security service has warned many dozens of Arab citizens who are thought to be followers of the group, and about 20 have been detained for questioning.

The man from a West Bank village near Jenin who killed a policeman and four others in Bnei Brak had loose ties to terror groups including Islamic Jihad. And two of the three members of the cell from the Jenin area who were killed Saturday night in a shootout with the police’s Yamam anti-terror unit were only adopted after the fact by Islamic Jihad. Only one had been a clearly active member of the organization.

Amid the resurgent threat, the government has taken necessary steps at the recommendation of defense officials. The Israeli army in the West Bank has been bolstered by a number of battalions deployed near the separation barrier, which is dotted by breaches, and about 15 companies have halted their training and been sent to boost the police in cities. The current state of alert could continue through Ramadan until mid-May. If the terror wave wanes, that will reduce fears among the public.

Maybe then things will be put in perspective – Israel has known much worse terror waves. In any case, we probably shouldn’t be overly impressed by talk about closing the breaches in the separation barrier. Israel has turned a blind eye to them for more than a decade, and not because of logistical or legal difficulties.

The right wing doesn’t want to create facts on the ground that would constitute a de facto surrender of territories east of the barrier. Leftists (and to a great extent security officials) believe that the employment of Palestinians in Israel, even if illegal, helps the Palestinian economy and reduces the risk of another military clash.

The attack in Bnei Brack, near Tel Aviv, last week.

The somewhat hysterical media coverage of the terror attacks has been replaced by stories of heroism by the security forces. On Friday night, Yamam did what it has been doing for decades: It intercepted an armed terror cell on the way to commit an attack.

Sometimes when an arrest order is accompanied by directives that let the forces shoot when in danger, there are casualties, as there were this time: four wounded Yamam people. Medal ceremonies are a little premature; there could still be more incidents like this.

Also, we're now being bombarded by photos of the prime minister, defense minister, public security minister, police commissioner and Shin Bet chief “touring in the field” and “holding assessments.” Well, it seems the public has gotten the message; you guys can go back to work without a photographer in tow.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went even further, having learned an unnecessary lesson from Benjamin Netanyahu. There's no reason to make the Shin Bet chief and the head of Central Command unwilling extras when the prime minister makes a video from the field for the nation. Surely those two have more pressing things to do.

The major attacks in three Israeli cities surprised the intelligence community and rightfully undermined people’s sense of security. It seems the security steps being taken will be the right response to the current threat. These moves don’t promise hermetic protection, but if nothing arises that brings in the terror groups, we can hope that over time the current wave will subside.

Meanwhile, in the region and farther afield, dramatic things are happening, almost unnoticed amid the fears about the next terrorist. Horrifying war crimes by Russian soldiers are coming to light in Ukraine, following the partial withdrawal of the invading army.

In Yemen a two-month cease-fire has been declared between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. In Lebanon the deputy prime minister has announced the bankruptcy of the state and central bank. Each of these events may have an indirect impact on the strategic situation in Israel and the region regardless of the current terror wave.

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