The terror attack on Friday in which an Israeli security guard was shot and killed at the entrance to the West Bank city of Ariel is the sixth deadly attack since the current wave of terror started less than a month and a half ago, which left sixteen soldiers and civilians dead. During this period, security forces stopped dozens more attempted attacks, and during the past three weeks it appears that Israel has actually managed to rein in the renewed momentum of terror. It seems that this time, the terrorists at Ariel took advantage of breaches in security arrangements.
More than seven years ago, Israel instituted an intelligence and technology revolution in the way it handled terror attacks in the West Bank. Lessons learned from the abduction and murder of three young men in Gush Etzion in 2014 led to massive deployment of cameras and other means of observation throughout the West Bank. Gradually, this equipment was connected to a technological system that can quickly “meld” information from various sources, issue warnings based on deviations from usual behavior and quickly identify suspects after an attack. When the “lone-wolf” wave of terror began in the fall of 2015, social media monitoring capabilities were beefed up, to seek out hints of terrorists’ intentions to commit attacks.
All of these capabilities have now been put into use in the current wave, which surprised Israel, and to which it responded tardily. The scene of the attack at Ariel should have been at the heart of the focus of intelligence. The attack took place on one of the busiest roads in the West Bank, Route 5, at the entrance to one of the largest settlements. This road is entirely covered with cameras, also because of lessons learned from previous attacks. The two terrorists, according to footage from the scene, were in a car with Israeli license plates, fake or stolen. Ostensibly, this may have been enough for the system to issue a warning when the vehicle entered the area. But, based on findings from the preliminary investigation by the army, it seems that the two civilian security guards stationed at that point were taken completely by surprise. They were unable to return fire, and the female security guard was saved only because the guard who was killed shielded her with his body.
Two armed terrorists took part in the attack. The easy availability of guns has made the current wave of attacks more deadly than the 2015-2016 wave. The terrorists managed to flee the scene and a few hours later, the car they used was found burned in a nearby Palestinian village. Despite the missed warning, the intelligence establishment managed to make a quick recovery: two suspects in their twenties and their submachine guns were apprehended Saturday night in the northern West Bank of Qarawat Bani Hassan, after an investigation by the Shin Bet security service.
After the attack, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, the military arm of Fatah, claimed responsibility for it, though the reliability of that claim is still unclear. On Saturday, it was revealed that one of the suspects had served a short sentence in an Israeli prison, and he is probably linked to Hamas. However, the terrorist who killed three people in Tel Aviv on April 7 was associated with Fatah and his father was a former senior officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces in Jenin. After that attack, the father and senior Fatah officials praised the terrorist son, who was killed. A few armed activists associated with Fatah’s military wing have also been killed in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank during the recent sweep of arrests.
The attack at Ariel has also embarrassed the Palestinian Authority leadership, which also spoke in contradictory voices with regard to the Tel Aviv attack. When things happen in the heart of the West Bank, and are perceived by many Palestinians as a legitimate part of the struggle against the Israeli occupation, the PA will find it difficult to denounce an attack. On the other hand, its squirming will complicate things with Israel, which has for the most part been able to maintain a high level of security coordination with the PA throughout the recent stormy period. Then again, Hamas is breathing down the PA’s neck, having learned how to lead the recent wave of violence, draw public sympathy from the struggle over the Temple Mount, and undermine the PA’s hold over the cities in the West Bank.
The most sensitive focus at this time is the Temple Mount, even after the last Friday prayers of the month of Ramadan, which passed in a fairly orderly fashion. The high level of alert in the West Bank, Jerusalem and along the seam line, will continue for at least another week, until May 14, the day when the Palestinians mark the Nakba of 1948. But despite the deadly attack in Ariel, and despite the threatening Israeli statements that will certainly come out on Saturday after the Sabbath ends, no real change in the government’s policy is expected. It still wants to contain events, stop the wave of terror and avoid an eruption, certainly when its own political standing is weaker than ever.