The idea of a ‘lone wolf’ terrorist is a joke

Saying that a terrorist acted alone is no doubt convenient for the Israeli government. It allows it to shy away from the hard questions and the difficult conclusions that might be reached otherwise.

Israeli soldiers near the scene after a Palestinian assailant stabbed a reserve soldier at a bus stop near entrance to Shechem/Nablus, Oct. 11, 2018. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers near the scene after a Palestinian assailant stabbed a reserve soldier at a bus stop near entrance to Shechem/Nablus, Oct. 11, 2018. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Gideon Israel
Gideon Israel
Gideon Israel is the founder and president of the Jerusalem-Washington Center, which works to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel.  

Is there such a thing as a “Lone Wolf” terrorist?

A “Lone Wolf” terrorist is one that acts on its own without the support of a terrorist organization for logistics, weapons or indoctrination. The terrorist coordinated and executed the attack by itself, usually without telling anyone. While “Lone Wolf” terrorist phenomenon has occurred in various places—most notably, Theodore John Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, and Timothy Mcveigh, who blew up the Oklahoma federal buildings—the use of the concept in Israel obscures a much deeper problem and prevents the army and our elected officials from addressing the core of the issue.

The last two terrorist attacks in Israel—the murder of Ari Fuld in Gush Etzion and the attack at the Barkan Industrial area—are considered to be terrorists who attacked on their own, so-called “Lone Wolves.” Veteran defense writer for Walla, Amir Bohbot, writes that defense officials  are convinced that Ashraf Abu-sacha, who killed Ziv Hagabi and Kim Yechezkel in Barkan, acted alone. That being the case, we can expect the army to apprehend the terrorist and, if caught alive, he will likely be sentenced to life in prison, maybe his house will be demolished, end of story.

And this is exactly the problem.

These terrorists considered “Lone Wolves” are that only in practical terms, since they emanate from a culture and society which has been keeping incitement to attack Israel on a low burner for the past 25 years, ever so slightly raising the temperature when necessary and going full steam when terror attacks served their purpose.

At the outset of the Oslo Accords, Arab-Palestinian media was limited to television, newspaper and radio controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the incitement was broadcast from there. Now 25 years later, incitement to attack Israel is all over the web and social media, emanating from random individuals which have soaked in and absorbed the culture of hate and violence towards Israel provoked by the P.A. and perpetuated by their society. Thus, we experience over the last decade a rise in the perpetration of so called “Lone Wolf ” terrorist attacks in Israel.

By calling certain terrorists “Lone Wolf or a “lone terrorist,” defense officials will never be able to appropriately address the problem because the attack will be treated as a criminal investigation and closed once the terrorist is apprehended.

On the other hand, saying that the problem is hate education emanating from the P.A., which no doubt is a contributing factor, ignore the reality of a larger prevailing problem. For the 70 years of the existence of the modern State of Israel and in the period that preceded it, we have been witness to the same type of vicious attacks from our Muslim neighbors living among us.

What is it that causes these attacks? Is it the failed peace process—because these types of attacks happened before that? Is it our presence in Judea and Samaria—because countless Israelis were murdered by terrorists before that? Was it the establishment of the State of Israel—because the Hebron massacre in 1929 for instance preceded that? What is the root of this problem? What is it about our Muslim neighbors which can’t accept our existence?

Saying that a terrorist acted alone is no doubt convenient for the government. It allows it to shy away from the hard questions and the difficult conclusions that might be reached otherwise. Yet, it is possible that our government, for political or other reasons, may not want to address the root of the problem. In the book of Judges, the Jewish people faced difficult situations as they continued to settle the land. A Jewish leader would subsequently rise up or be chosen and lead the Jews to victory. In some cases, this would lead to 40 years of quiet, sometimes 80 years. In our modern-day Israel, can we have 10 years of quiet, maybe 20 years? If the root of the problem can’t be solved, is there an in between solution?

In the 1970s, the Arabs feared the Israeli border police so much that some would even walk to the other side of the street when seeing one. Today, the Ahed Tamimi video serves as a succinct example of what has happened since then. Whenever a holiday is approaching in Israel, a closure is declared on the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria during the course of the holiday. Why is that? Could it be that there are some times during the year where Israeli safety is paramount, and other times not? Are there times during the year when, well, let’s just say it would be very inconvenient for there to be a terrorist attack in any part of Israel?

Eight months ago, Raziel Shevach was murdered by terrorists on his way home. After the terrorists were apprehended, Prime Minister Netanyahu remarked“Security forces will get to anyone who tries to harm Israeli citizens, and we will see that justice is served. … I told Rabbi Raziel Shevach’s wife that we would get to the murderers, and last night the mission was completed.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “The account has been settled. I praise the IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police on their successful operation … .” Yet Shevach’s wife, Yael, felt a little different: “I understand the desire for account-settling, but when it comes with another killing, we haven’t solved the problem. So one person has been killed, what about the ones still waiting to kill another Jew?”

Astonishingly enough, the same discourse played itself out a month later when the terrorist who stabbed Itamar Ben Gal to death was apprehended. After the terrorist’s capture, Defense Minister Lieberman expressed satisfaction, saying: “We’ve come full circle. Let every murderous terrorist know we will get to him and settle the score with him. I congratulate the security forces … ”

Kind of rings hollow, doesn’t it? Here again, the widow Miriam Ben Gal had a different take: “Truthfully, I don’t feel anything. It won’t bring (Itamar) back home. And it won’t prevent another terrorist from rising and murdering again and destroying another family.” Could it be that Yael Shevach and Miriam Ben Gal, regular citizens with no security background, understand what the defense minister and prime minister fail to understand? They both know that the problem is much deeper, but our elected officials don’t know, or choose to ignore it?

We need to stop burying our dead and receiving hugs from our elected officials.

We must not allow our elected officials to use the deceptive phrase “lone terrorist” or “acting alone.” Its usage is not only a disservice to the Israeli people, but a kind of dereliction of duty. The Israeli government must face the hard questions and it’s long overdue to address the driving factor for this unending hatred.

If the security cabinet or defense apparatus is unwilling to do that, they should ask themselves what are the means necessary to achieve quiet. Just as quiet can be reached for two weeks, it can also be reached for two months and two years. The Israeli people deserve elected officials who will make the hard decision needed to defeat this problem. This should be done with urgency; an urgency where our elected officials feel like the next victim could be from their own family.

Like maggots growing out of stale food, the next terrorist is growing and being groomed in the society where hate and violence persist. Our elected officials need to be asking how they break the soul of this brutal violence—and nothing less.

Gideon Israel is the president of the Jerusalem Washington Center and can be contacted at Gisrael@jw-center.org.

You can find more in-depth articles on Israel and the Middle East @en.mida.org.il.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates