Opinion |

Can a Palestinian Truck-rammer Be Deterred?

When a radical Islamist thinks he hears a command from Allah that he should kill a Jew or a Christian, this command overrides all other considerations.

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A Palestinian man holds a phone showing a photo of Fadi al-Qanbar, who killed four Israeli soldiers in a truck-ramming, January 8. 2017.
A Palestinian man holds a phone showing a photo of Fadi al-Qanbar, who killed four Israeli soldiers in a truck-ramming, January 8. 2017.Credit: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz last week that the Palestinian terrorist Fadi al-Qanbar who drove his truck into a crowd of soldiers in Jerusalem could not be deterred from committing such an act. He was fully aware of the consequences, she wrote his home would be destroyed, his family would be ruined and his relatives would be interrogated.

Yet all this did not stop him. All the measures taken by the authorities with the intention of deterring such an act simply did not work and presumably will not work. With Qanbar and similarly motivated terrorists, these measures fall on deaf ears.

What Hass did not explain is that when a religious Muslim feels that he hears a command from Allah that he should kill a Jew or a Christian, or any infidel, this command overrides all other considerations. This is especially the case when he knows that executing this command means a ticket to paradise and its rewards.

Of course, most Muslims do not hear such commands from above, and do not look for the first opportunity to knife, shoot or drive a truck into a crowd of Jews. But those belonging to the radical Islamic fringe do, whether in Jerusalem, Paris, Nice, Berlin or Istanbul. They will not be deterred and can be stopped only by a bullet. When their murderous act is accompanied by the cry “Allahu Akbar,” we know who we’re dealing with – a radical Islamic terrorist.

Some like to think that this imaginary command from Allah to kill has an added Palestinian flavor when addressed to radical Palestinian Muslims, which makes those following the command not only “ordinary martyrs” but also “Palestinian freedom fighters.” According to this thinking, the message from above heard by an Islamic State terrorist in Nice or Berlin is somehow different than the message heard by a Palestinian radical Islamist in Jerusalem.

The fact is, in recent years there has been a significant reduction in terrorist acts committed by Palestinians who do not belong to the radical Islamic fringe. Possibly some are deterred by the measures that have been taken by Israel with the aim of deterring such acts, while others may have concluded that such acts do not serve the Palestinian cause.

The official position of the Palestinian Authority is that terrorism does not advance the Palestinian cause. Qanbar and his ilk may not be that concerned about the Palestinian cause. Allah’s command evidently takes precedence.

Deterring Islamic terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah from attacking Israel presents a problem similar to the difficulty of deterring Qanbar. The leaders of these groups also claim that they are following Allah’s orders.

But unlike Qanbar, these organizations have a strategic vision and long-range plans, and must take into consideration the consequences of their actions. They feel they can bide their time and choose the time and place of their attacks to comply with their plans. They can sit and wait until they are good and ready and have amassed a sufficient arsenal. If it seems they’re being deterred from attacking Israel, it’s only for the time being.

When planning an attack on Israel, Hamas’ leaders must take into consideration the effect an Israeli response will have on the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza. Similarly, Hezbollah, which also operates as a political party, must consider the effect on Lebanon and its people. Hezbollah must also wait for a green light from Tehran.

But make no mistake about it, these terrorist organizations will not abandon their plans to destroy Israel, firm in the belief that, like Qanbar, they are following Allah’s command. The only way to stop them is to defeat them.