Six months of terror: Former defense officials explain why the wave has not faded

Former senior defense officials explain the differences between past events and what is happening today, talk about moves which could bring calm, and on the difficulty to remain optimistic.

By OZ ROSENBERG/MAARIV
March 13, 2016 18:20
Palestinian terrorist depicted stabbing an IDF soldier in cartoon

Palestinian terrorist depicted stabbing an IDF soldier in cartoon. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)

As the current wave of terrorism reaches its sixth month, former senior defense officials agree on one thing - the "lone wolf" attacks, which have come to characterize the wave of terror, are merely the superficial aspect of the phenomena.

According to the former officials, behind the "individual intifada" and "intifada of knives" labels, lurks the key element changing the rules of play - the internet. According to them, this is what distinguishes the current wave, which broke out on 13 September 2015, from the intifada that preceded it, and may also result in the current wave continuing for a significant amount of time, perhaps even years.

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"I do not see this declining in the next few months," said Col. (ret) Moshe Givati, who in the first intifada, which broke out in 1987, was the commander of the Gush Dan sector of the Home Front Command. "Every intifada lasts around five years. You can call this the 'Intifada of the knives,' 'of the young' or 'the individuals,' but either way, it will not fade soon."

In 1986, Givati was made ​​Brigade Commander of the Judea and Samaria region, and during the first intifada established the Judea Brigade, under the Judea and Samaria Division, and was its first commander. He experienced firsthand the roots of Palestinian resistance.

"There is no connection between the first intifada and what is happening now," he said. "Although the reasons for carrying out these attacks are the same reasons (as those motivating the attacks 30 years ago), especially regarding the growing frustration around our control of Judea and Samaria, the first intifada was a popular eruption of mass protest among women, children and the elderly. The first intifada began as a popular uprising, and only afterward did it become shaped by all kinds of organizations. At that time there were almost no computers or the internet, communication was sustained via leaflets and radio broadcasts. Slowly, as reporters began to report from on the ground, those in Tulkarem could see what was happening in Hebron."

According to Givati, the first Intifada was expressed through mass demonstrations and burning tires or taking control of villages and declaring them "free." "Until we came back and occupied course," he continued. "There were hardly any terror attacks. Only here and there, particularly in Hebron, where Jews go into the Casbah (market)."

"This is the internet intifada," agreed Israel Police Maj. Gen (ret) Shlomi Katabi. on the current wave of terror. "There is no infrastructure. Someone can wake up in the morning, read something and say, 'I'm going to do something."
Palestinian incitement video

During the first intifada, Katabi served as the commander of the Old City of Jerusalem in the Border Police, an area which was and remains a powder keg. During the second intifada, which broke out in 2000, he was serving as commander of the Judea and Samaria district in the police.

"Behind the first intifada, at the preliminary stages, there was an organized character to the action," he explained. "Everything was being generated, incited and coordinated. There was a real sense of a policy toward terrorist attacks. Plans for when to attack and when not to. Today, however, because of the internet, everyone is influenced. Add to that the fact that almost everyone has been affected, either by the first or second degree, and as a result you see what we have on the streets today."

Ami Meitav, who held a senior position in the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), finds another difference between the first intifada and the current wave of terrorism. According to him, unlike today, "the main goal of the first intifada was not to reach independence. It was an explosion of frustration from 20 years of Israeli rule and degrading treatment."

During the first intifada, Meitav served as the coordinator of the southern region in the Shin Bet. While during the second intifada, he was coordinator of the "triangle region" and Jerusalem. "The second intifada was the result of a situation in which Arafat prepared the ground ready for a combustion, and was looking for an excuse to spark it," he said. "Sharon provided it when he went to the Temple Mount. This intifada was planned by Palestinian Authority officials."

Collapse of authority

"The first intifada took years to suppress," said Givati. "We did it mainly by means of dispersing demonstrations, which until then we had not seen the like, and developed (our methods) along the way. There was only tear gas, and the army gradually developed other means, such as plastic or rubber bullets. Only later were undercover units established."

Palestinians, he says, took years to understand that this does not lead to talks. According to Givati, the Palestinian side broke when Israel began to hit senior figures in the leadership. "While it's true that the first intifada accelerated the Oslo process and led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, she not only led to a solution, but also a wave of terror - remember those who were sacrificed as a result of Peres and Rabin's peace," said Givati.

"These were terrible attacks, and then came the second intifada. It took place when there were armed Palestinian police, and it was more of a problem. Then came very grave terrorist attacks, like the one at the Park Hotel in Netanya, and we found ourselves fighting armed men from all kinds of factions, and we responded with Operation Defensive Shield. This intifada has also brought the Palestinians nothing."

The former officials all agreed that what is feeding the current intifada is, as mentioned, the internet, which enables simple and instant communication. "The internet creates an environment which is conducive to encouraging attacks more easily than through the mediums of radio and TV," said Major General (res) Giora Eiland, former head of the IDF Planning Branch during the second intifada, and the head of the National Security Council (NSC). "There is an atmosphere fed by ISIS, for example the use of knives, and the element of cruelty."

"What is happening now is largely driven by young people who are using social networks," adds Givati. "They are not breadwinners and their parents do not interest them. There is a complete collapse of authority - parental, educators, leadership. Think how terrible it is that a child did not belong to any organization and provider - makes an attack on a whim, and then destroy the house of his parents."

"If there is no change in what is happening on social networks, and I do not see this change happening soon, then the genie is out of the bottle and will not return," said Meitav. "This painful drip which we see on the streets today - it could be that it will become the routine in the coming years, and it is doubtful if anything can be done to stop it."

According to Meitav, there was a resounding example of this last week. "I met a woman from Nazareth," he says. "Muslim, very educated, very smart, very involved in Jewish life, but is convinced that Israel is digging under the Temple Mount. She told me: 'Of course it's true!' It's like a man coming to convince me that the moon shines by day and the sun at night. It is unreasonable. So factually, repeating lies over and over again, they are finally absorbed by intelligent ears, not to mention ears that seek to consume them."

Zero sum game

The lack of an organized infrastructure makes the current wave unstable and almost unpredictable. "If there would have been the internet in the time of the first intifada, it still would not have been different from what we saw," says Katabi. "Someone organized it, what to do and what not to do. Today there is an atmosphere of incitement, and in this situation there will always be the same people that will be affected. Boys, minors, who want to be heros and go out one morning to attack."

"Your ability to fight terrorism depends on your ability to produce real-time intelligence," adds Eiland. "But for this you need to know who the enemy is. But if all your enemies go to sleep at night, and at this point not even they know themselves that they are your enemy, and only when they wake up they decide they are your enemy - there's a very great difficulty in preventing this. And this is definitely frustrating."

What to do?

"The two-state solution is problematic because it is characterized by the paradigm of a zero sum game, and has long been perceived as the worst option. We are not succeeding to move forward with the solution. That is well known. The question is whether you can create a dramatic change in the messages coming out of the PA. The answer for me is that there is the possibility, but it does not happen by preaching or threatening them. You could do it with a package deal. Say, you - the PA - you make a dramatic change in your messages, and you get something in return."

This "return," in Eiland's opinion, should be in the form of settlement construction, an issue that angers the Palestinians and the entire world, including the United States. "Look on the map as it is today and mark a line in each locality, including for isolated settlements," he suggested. "Agree to freeze construction in the open spaces outside these areas. It will give great achievement for the Palestinians. If a third party, Americans or others, ensures that - you've created a dialogue, decreased the tension."

Punishments, the former officials say, may be effective, but only for a very limited time. "There's one thing I learned from Ariel Sharon when he commanded the Gaza Strip, which is the subject of the expulsion of Palestinian families," said Givati. "It will serve as a deterrent and soothe the area, but concurrently as many Palestinians as possible should be enabled to come to work here, instead of the Sudanese or Chinese. Give them the economic benefit. They will not like us, not even the Arab Israelis, but they will live with it. Every attack that closes off sources for making a living makes things worse."

"There is no stronger punishment than that of deportation," adds Meitav. "It's harsher than house demolitions. But it is highly doubtful whether the law would allow such a thing. I do not see how one can prevent a battered woman from carrying out an attack in Gush Etzion. So we are probably not able to exercise such a punishment within international law as it is, and so we may need to prepare for the reality that just as we pay the price on the roads - we will pay the price in stabbings and attacks by individuals."


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