A comparison between the current wave of Palestinian terrorism and the previous wave between October 2015 and March 2016 raises two questions: 1) Why has this wave of terrorism become much more lethal per incident? 2) Why is the Palestinian population less willing to engage in it?
After almost three months since the latest terror wave began, it is clear that fewer Palestinians are motivated to engage in terrorism than during the previous wave. The data leaves no room for doubt: In the first three months of the 2015-2016 wave, there were 134 terrorist incidents in which Israelis and a few foreigners were either killed or maimed. There have been 23 attacks in the current wave that began in March.
At the same time, the terrorists have been far more lethal in the current wave than in the past. In the recent surge, 20 have been killed in 23 attacks; whereas, in the first three months of the last wave, 28 Israelis were killed in 134 incidents. In terms of lethality per incident, the current assailants were four times more effective than their predecessors.
What can Israel do to decrease the willingness of Palestinians to engage in terrorism and reduce the effectiveness of the attacks?
Security officials are right to adopt a policy that targets the terrorists, their families and affiliated groups. However, some of the terrorists are not affiliated with any organization, which makes it harder to prevent attacks.
Targeted raids, the arrest or elimination of terrorists and supporters and destruction of their homes are effective measures to shorten the wave. However, curfews and closures of entire villages are counterproductive. These methods prevent Palestinians who work within the Green Line from reaching their jobs, where their income is double what they could earn locally. This will only fuel resentment and, in the long term, increase Palestinians’ willingness to engage in terrorism.
To devise ways to reduce the heightened effectiveness of the current wave of terrorism is more complicated.
The increased lethality has to do with changes beyond Israel’s control. Once, it took a workshop, which could be monitored by the security forces, to produce a weapon. However, machinery has become much cheaper, smaller and more ubiquitous due to imports from China and elsewhere.
So, learning to make a makeshift gun has become easier due to the Internet and higher education levels. A rise in living standards increases the ability to buy the machinery that makes these guns. Yet, many attacks continue to be carried out with simple weapons such as knives or construction equipment.
In the past, the security fence was a minor factor in the reduction of terrorism compared to intelligence gathered on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades operatives, which enabled the preventive arrests of would-be terrorists.
But at least in theory, the fence’s importance has become commensurate with the phenomenon of attacks by terrorists unaffiliated with terrorist organizations or ideologically motivated terrorists on whom there is little intelligence.
It is unfortunate that several aspects of the fence, a significant defensive measure, are problematic and reduce its effectiveness.
Many of the most sensitive areas of the fence run along both sides of the Green Line and have a dense Arab population. In addition, patrolling 500 kilometers (311 miles) of the barrier requires manpower the IDF and other security forces find difficult to provide. Further, adequate maintenance of the fence is very expensive.
A static “dumb” security fence is not very effective against young and resourceful workers, many of whom work in construction, are experts at dismantling barriers and desperately want to work within the Green Line.
They are met on the other side by no less eager Israeli employers in an economy that thirsts for the manpower the Palestinians provide. The ubiquitous smartphone has solved the coordination problem between workers and employers.
To make sure these workers are authorized and pass the official border posts is easier said than done. For many of these workers, acquiring permits to work in Israel increases the distance, time and cost of travel and the bureaucratic steps involved. Moreover, major resources would have to be earmarked to monitor and police the border, as well as the imposition of high fines, in order to reduce the number of unauthorized workers.
A campaign against illegal workers tends to begin with enthusiasm, only to fade away as the police address other concerns. To make sure employers provide generous social and pension benefits, however, could be more helpful.
There is no question that increased policing works. Jerusalem was the scene of five of the 23 attacks, but only one killing, in the recent wave. This can be attributed to a much heavier police presence in Israel’s capital than elsewhere.
But the police are overstretched. The state should encourage reserve combat personnel to carry arms by providing them free of charge and using tax credits as an incentive.
Furthermore, the state must crack down on media outlets such as Al Jazeera, as well as websites that belong to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It must also locate, arrest and prosecute participants in the new media, such as TikTok, who incite attacks against Jews.
Most of all, the security forces must take immediate and forceful action in order to cope with this wave of terror.
Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on the Arab world at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.