Intelligence File: Suicidal uprising

Although very different from the second intifada, the current terrorist attacks spring from the same desperation, which the government refuses to address.

October 18, 2015 07:22

This week in 60 seconds: The ugly face of terror

This week in 60 seconds: The ugly face of terror

The wave of terrorism that Israel is experiencing nowadays is suicidal terrorism.

The Guardian recently revealed that US police departments have sometimes doctored their operational reports, terming cases where people were shot by police officers after challenging, provoking or threatening them as “suicide.”

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Despite the many differences, a similar death wish has been exhibited in most of the cases where Palestinians, including many teenagers, equipped with knives, have attacked police officers, soldiers or civilians in broad daylight and have been shot by security personnel.

These young people embark on their fanatic missions to kill Jews knowing that they will likely not return home.

They wish to die (or don’t care if they die) and become martyrs.

Thus Israel is witness, at least in one sense, to a repetition of the patterns of the second Palestinian uprising (intifada), which occurred between 2000 and 2004 and was characterized by suicidal terrorists.

To be sure, there is a huge difference between then and now.

During the second intifada, most of the terrorists carried explosives on their bodies in order to inflict as much damage as possible on Israeli Jews.

They were suicide bombers, while others used firearms.

The new generation of terrorists is equipped with knives, stones and Molotov cocktails; cars are also a weapon of choice. Only in one instance was a pistol used.

During the second intifada, 1,000 Israelis and 4,300 Palestinians were killed. In the two weeks since the beginning on October 1 of the current wave of terrorism, seven Israelis and 23 Palestinians have been killed.

The 2000-2004 attacks were organized.

The terrorists were, for the most part, in their mid-20s and older and belonged to groups and organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and the Popular Front. They were sent on their missions by order of their respective organizations.

The hierarchy was clear. There were commanders and soldiers organized in underground cells and networks with a division of labor – recruiters, bomb makers, drivers and other helpers.

For Israeli counterterrorism and security agencies, there were clear addresses and targets to hold responsible and act against.

Today, there is no address, there are no central commands to blame for the attacks. The terrorists are much younger – teenagers ranging from 13 to 20 years of age. They are neither organized nor affiliated.

They act as lone wolves, on their own initiative, sometimes with an instinctive and spontaneous decision on the spot to carry out an act of terrorism.

Most of the assailants come from east Jerusalem because they benefit from carrying Israeli identification and can move relatively easier than their Palestinian brethren from the West Bank, who are confined by walls and stricter security checks.

Therefore, it is much harder for the security services – the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IDF – to anticipate and prevent the attacks.

Intelligence agencies can send or recruit agents inside organized structures.

They can bug and intercept their communications, discover their arms and explosives caches and disrupt their plans. But they can’t penetrate into the heads of individuals and read their minds. Nor can they confiscate their weapons.

As Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, repelling criticism leveled by one of his colleagues during a cabinet meeting this week, “Do you want us to collect all the kitchen knives in Palestinian houses?” What is in common between then and now is the readiness to sacrifice one’s life and to die.

If there is a common denominator that links all the attacks in the current wave of terrorism, it is what the Shin Bet calls the “atmosphere” or zeitgeist – which can be explained as the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

The prevailing mood among Palestinians is of desperation and frustration at being for 48 years under Israeli occupation and being subjected to harassment by settlers, security checks and road blocks, closures and land and water confiscation; desperation and frustration living with a deteriorating economy and, no less important, no hope that their situation and conditions will be someday change and they will be free.

Israeli leaders and intelligence services also blame the events on what they call incitement – the discourse in the Palestinian electronic media, press and, above all, social media, which accuse Israel of attempts to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.

All official government statements, including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that these claims are pure lies fall on deaf ears.

The Palestinians also rebel against Israel and distrust its justice. A case in point is the question of why the Shin Bet is so successful in solving Palestinian terrorist attacks but so slow in cracking Jewish terrorists cells, including those responsible for murders like the terrible burning alive of the Dawabshe family in a West Bank village a few months ago.

Nevertheless, the current events are also an expression of the Palestinians’ disobedience and mistrust of their own leaders, above all the aging Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, for their corruption and inability to improve their lives.

The Israeli security establishment is trying to counter the new terrorism by a variety of means. It has beefed up the presence of the security forces – police officers and soldiers – in the West Bank, east Jerusalem, which is considered the heart of the troubles, Gaza and inside Israeli cities.

Army troops were sent to patrol some Israeli cities, and road blocks were deployed at the entrances and exits to east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The intelligence services try to increase their monitoring of social media, with the hope that it may provide advance notice of plans by individuals to kill Israelis. This approach is based on some recent cases where perpetrators of terrorist attacks had announced their intentions on their Facebook pages or tweeted them.

In view of the Palestinian protests and infiltration into Israel from Gaza, Israel also intends to build a new fence of 65 kilometers along the border with Gaza, a better and more-hardened barrier.

Also, Israeli security chiefs have noticed that there are several restraining factors that may help to tackle the “new situation,” as they put it. These include Abbas himself, who is against the use of bombs and firearms, which would lead to a major escalation, and even Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which don’t want the events in Gaza to spin out of control and lead to a fourth war with Israel.

Another import development with restraining effect is the 110,000 Palestinian workers and traders who have legal jobs and business in Israel and the Jewish settlements. They support their families – all together nearly one million people. Throughout the recent weeks these workers have continued to go about their daily routine.

Yet the major obstacle to putting an end to the violence is the lack of a diplomatic process. The Shin Bet and the IDF chiefs have time and again told the government that without a political solution, the Palestinians would resort to violence. The same warnings were raised in the media by experts and commentators.

But the Netanyahu-Ya’alon right-wing government refuses to listen. It is held captive by its own set of beliefs and ideology. It is not ready to make substantial concessions, such as withdrawing from most areas in the West Bank. It fears a civil war, if it should decide to dismantle Jewish settlements, and prefers the status quo with periodical waves of terrorism, which it wrongly believes it can manage.

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