2020, which was a good year in terms of the war on terror, is winding down to an end with a bright, flashing warning: The murder of Esther Horgen and the terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Monday could indicate an impending terrorist wave.
Based on past experience, it’s safe to assume that Horgen’s murderer will be captured quickly. It doesn’t seem to have been a planned attack, certainly not organized by a terrorist cell; rather, it was more likely a spur-of-the-moment act of opportunity. It’s even possible it began as a criminal attack, which turned into a brutal murder. History is also full of many such events, the last of which was the horrific murder of Ori Ansbacher nearly two years ago near Jerusalem.
Those who commit these atrocities have a clear interest in having them labeled terrorist attacks rather than murders, and being labeled terrorists rather than murderers. Either way, they will receive life sentences, but attaining terrorist status has dramatic implications: On the Palestinian street they will be perceived as heroes, receive fanfare and funding from the Palestinian Authority and a bevy of other charity associations. Therefore, we can assume that when Horgen’s murderer is caught, he will claim that he was nationalistically motivated. And he will likely pin the awful brutality of his murder on the same excuse.
Horgen was the third person killed in terrorist attacks in 2020. This is a drop compared to the last two years—nine killed in 2019 (seven civilians and two members of the security forces) and 16 people killed in 2018 (nine civilians and seven members of the security forces). The drop is partly attributed to successful preventative measures implemented by the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet, but also to the coronavirus pandemic.
The P.A. has been largely locked down since March. Many people have been stuck at home, unnerved, while certainly avoiding contact with others. In Palestinian villages, Tanzim patrols ensure that lockdown measures are being meticulously observed and that Palestinians are not crossing into Israeli areas unchecked.
Under these circumstances, any unnecessary movement is considered suspicious, and terrorists have struggled to operate. The IDF and Shin Bet have exploited this, and—after a short period of freezing counter-terrorist activities when the pandemic first erupted (save for imperative operations in extraordinary cases)—have used the situation to hit terrorist networks hard.
This has contributed to the low figures, but it has changed nothing in terms of motivation. Both organized terrorists—specifically guided by Hamas in Gaza—and localized cells, continue to plot attacks. As always, “lone-wolf” terrorists who act independently are also a constant concern. The murder of Horgen, it appears, was perpetrated by one of these lone-wolf terrorists, unlike the shooting attack in Jerusalem’s Old City later on Monday.
Israel’s security forces now must focus on two objectives. First, the terrorists behind both attacks on Monday must be apprehended before they act again (in the case of the Jerusalem cell, it is clearly armed and dangerous). Second, the security forces must nip in the bud any potential wave of copycat terrorism inspired by these attacks. The main challenge right now is to curb this wave before it swells.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.