After a lull seven years long, terrorist bombings returned to the streets of
Jerusalem on Wednesday, serving as a stark reminder of a period that many
residents of the capital had preferred to forget.
The attack which rocked
the entrance to the capital on Wednesday morning came just hours after two
Grad-model Katyusha rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Beersheba and
another hit south of Ashkelon.
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While Police Insp.-Gen. Dudi Cohen tried
to downplay the connection between the two attacks, the IDF believes that both
are likely connected and that it is possible that the attack in Jerusalem was
carried out by Hamas or Islamic Jihad as a possible way to move the fighting
from Gaza to other parts of Israel.
Islamic Jihad had vowed to retaliate
against an air strike on Tuesday which killed four of its senior
The investigation will likely lead the Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) to the West Bank, where Hamas is still known to have some
infrastructure, even though it is under constant threat from the IDF as well as
the security forces of the Palestinian Authority.
The investigation, like
many before it, is currently on two different tracks – operational and
Immediately after the attack, the police shut down much of
the city for the simple reason that, unlike in a suicide bombing, there was a
live attacker on the loose who was also likely the one who detonated the bomb
either with a timer or a mobile phone.
The second track, intelligence,
falls under the responsibility of the Shin Bet, which judging by past experience
is usually successful in apprehending those responsible for such
The Jerusalem attack will force Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to make some tough
On the one hand, their immediate instinct will be to respond
harshly to the attack in an effort to deter future ones in Jerusalem or other
parts of Israel. On the other hand, an aggressive Israeli response could turn
the current rise in violence, which may still die down, into a cycle that will
culminate in another massive incursion into the Gaza Strip, like Operation Cast
Lead two years ago.
Depending on what Netanyahu wants to do with the
Palestinian peace track, he could use the current escalation in terrorist
attacks to his advantage. If he doesn’t want to renew the talks and instead
maintain the status quo, then the attacks in Itamar, Beersheba, Ashkelon, Ashdod
and now Jerusalem are the perfect excuse.
On the other hand, if he wants
to move forward with the peace talks with the PA leadership in the West Bank
then he can use the recent spate of attacks as proof of Israel’s need for
security assurances before any future concessions, a topic that will be
discussed on Thursday in talks Barak will hold with visiting US Defense
Secretary Robert Gates.
It will also reinforce Israel’s claim that the
IDF needs to retain a presence in the Jordan Valley even if it withdraws from
most of the West Bank.
According to defense officials it would be almost
impossible today for the Palestinians to launch a third intifada on the same
scale as the wave of terror that erupted in the territories in 2000.
IDF has done an effective job in combating terror in the West Bank, turning 2010
into the quietest year in the past decade. The PA security forces are also doing
an effective job in cracking down on Hamas, an official said.
addition, the fact that the PA is arranged in real, conventional-looking
security forces would also work against them in a future conflict with the IDF,
which would have an easier time fighting against an organized military force
than lone terrorists like it did in the early 2000s.
This does not mean
that terrorist attacks are not possible.
Jerusalem has not known an
explosion like the one that occurred on Wednesday since 2004 and has not seen a
terror attack since the bulldozer rampages in 2008.
challenge for the government and the IDF will be to find a way to restore
Israel’s deterrence, particularly in the Gaza Strip, while containing the
violence from growing into a larger-scale conflict.
This may prove too
difficult a balance, meaning that Wednesday might just be the kickoff for
Operation Cast Lead No. 2.