Israel is preparing for the possibility of a new wave of “lone-wolf” terrorism, similar to the so-called “knife intifada” of 2015. Police in Jerusalem have been reinforced, and IDF units in Judea and Samaria are on the alert. The IDF has decided not to send reinforcements into Judea and Samaria at this time, with the exception of vehicle checkpoints, such as the one at Te’enim that was attacked by a terrorist on Dec. 6.
Security sources say Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Gaza Strip are trying to ignite the tension resulting from the recent attacks, with the aim of encouraging more individuals to carry out spontaneous attacks.
Hamas and PIJ’s announcement on Dec. 6 should be seen as a possible strategy to renew the escalation on the Gaza border. Meanwhile, they are critical of Egypt, the primary mediator between Hamas and Israel.
The main task of Israel’s security forces these days is to halt the phenomenon of lone-wolf terror attacks, while simultaneously not inflaming the already tense situation.
Concerned about ‘copycats’
The IDF is alarmed by the prospect of imitation attacks, especially as in recent weeks incitement on social media has increased. Such incitement, especially when it involves incidents in eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, has the most significant impact on younger Palestinians.
In November, there were three terrorist attacks: a stabbing in the Old City of Jerusalem in which two Border Police soldiers were wounded; a shooting by Hamas-affiliated terrorist and cleric Fadi Abu Shkhaydam in which an Israeli civilian was murdered; and a stabbing in Jaffa in which a civilian was seriously wounded.
So far in December, there have been two attacks: a stabbing at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in which an Israeli civilian was seriously injured, and a vehicular assault at the Te’enim crossing in Samaria in which an Israeli security guard was seriously injured. In all cases, the terrorists were killed.
Hamas is trying to recover from a severe blow; in recent months, the Israel Security Agency arrested an extensive Hamas network that had been planning attacks in Israel, and Judea and Samaria. Weapons and explosive belts intended for suicide bombings were also captured.
This terrorist activity in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria is directed from the Gaza Strip, Turkey and Lebanon through Hamas’s “West Bank headquarters.” The mastermind is Saleh al-Arouri, the head of Hamas’s “military wing” in Judea and Samaria. Hamas is attempting to carry out a “showcase” attack that will serve as a role model and fuel for the fire that has already begun to spread in eastern Jerusalem.
Hamas estimates that Israel is struggling to cope with the phenomenon of lone-wolf terrorists, whose attacks occur spontaneously and often in seemingly undirected waves. Hamas, therefore, tries to ride each wave as soon as it is detected and before it fades. For Hamas and other terrorist groups, the main “enemy” is the security coordination between Israel’s security forces and the P.A. security services.
P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that he holds a double-edged sword that could undermine his rule. So, while his prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, attacks Israel for killing the young terrorists (“cold-blooded murder”), Abbas in recent days has changed direction and ordered his security forces to stop the attacks and end the incitement.
The lone-wolf terrorism phenomenon is attributed mainly to young Palestinians, who feed on the incitement on Palestinian social networks and media. Many of the young terrorists are frustrated. They come from families living in difficult economic situations, and seek to become “heroes” in a society that nurtures the legend of “martyrs.” Young Palestinians used to announce their deadly intentions on social media, or in videos. However, today, they typically take precautions and do not express their homicidal/suicidal intentions for fear of monitoring by the Israeli or P.A. security forces.
Within Palestinian society, there are also manifestations of soul-searching. Following Saturday’s attack on an ultra-Orthodox Jew near Damascus Gate, a veteran Palestinian journalist spoke out.
Ziad Abu Ziyad, a senior Fatah journalist in eastern Jerusalem, published an op-ed in the al-Quds newspaper on Dec. 5, 2021, in which he strongly criticized the Palestinian leadership:
“What happened yesterday [editor’s note: the shooting of the terrorist by Israeli Border Police] is murder in every sense of the word, and it is an episode in the cold-blooded killing series that is being practiced against our children and youth.
“[But] there is another question that we have to face with courage, honesty and responsibility: Who sent Mohammed Salima to do what he did? If there is no one who sent him, who is responsible for his actions?
“From time to time, we lose the flower of our young men and women. … Although the killing by the Israeli police, Border Police and the army is in cold blood, it does not absolve us of responsibility. The attacks by [Palestinian] individuals are useless spilling of blood, without purpose. What is the result of their deaths [with regard to] ending the occupation?
“These killings will not bring us independence and an end to the occupation, as the [Israeli forces’] killing of our children, which could be stopped, is useless and will not bring them security. Their killings will lead to nothing more than encouraging the will to retaliate, and we will enter a vicious cycle of mutual killing.”
Ziad Abu Ziyad ended his article by admitting that the lone attacks were useless to the Palestinian struggle:
“Where is the Palestinian leadership that bears responsibility for managing the struggle against the occupation? I do not mean only those who sit in Ramallah or Gaza, but all the leaders of the factions and those who speak for the Palestinian people and their fate. Where are you? Where is your national resistance plan? How long will our children and youth remain like sheep without a shepherd? Why do you cheer and glorify useless individual actions to cover up your leadership helplessness?”
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.