Shooting attack at Tel Aviv's Sarona complex, June 8, 2016..
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Israel may have a new defense minister but it still has the same prime minister and security cabinet, and therefore its measured and cautious policy in dealing with Palestinian terrorism will not change following Wednesday night’s attack in Tel Aviv in which four civilians were killed. It was the deadliest single event in terms of casualties since the beginning of the current wave of violence in September 2015, which so far has claimed the lives of 38 Israelis and foreigners, and some 225 Palestinians, most of them terrorists carrying out attacks.
The measures adopted by the defense establishment following the Tel Aviv incident are no different than those adopted after each of the attacks of the last nine months. Many expected that new defense minister Avigdor Liberman would make a policy U-turn, but so far he is taking the same approach as his predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon, and adhering to the recommendations of the security establishment. Liberman understands that there are no unused tools in Israel’s security shed.
The measures taken in the wake of the attack include a closure on the perpetrators’ village, the arrest of family members and limited punitive measures.
The military also mapped the family homes of the terrorists for demolition and revoked work permits from 200 members of their extended families.
The only collective punishment that Israel carried out in the wake of the attack was to revoke some 83,000 permits granted to Palestinians to enter Israel for the Ramadan holiday. The punishment thus extended to Palestinian “pleasure” time, while allowing business – jobs – to continue as usual.
This approach – enabling more than 100,000 Palestinians to work in Israel and the settlements – is the cornerstone of the Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank. It is a policy aimed at differentiating between terrorists and the rest of the Palestinian public at large, allowing the general population to continue to live their lives and support their families as usual. For the same reason, Israel systematically avoids imposing closures on large areas, as it did during the first and second intifadas. This is a reasonable policy which justifies itself. It is driven by the fear that collective punishment, as suggested by some right-wing members of cabinet, would further deepen the frustration and desperation of large groups of Palestinians who would then join the cycle of violence.
It is clear that the Tel Aviv attack has characteristics similar to previous attacks in this terrorist wave. The two suspects are cousins from the village of Yatta in the South Hebron Hills, where a number of previous terrorists also came from. They had no security record. They used a type of improvised submachine gun known as “Carlo,” which has also been used in a number of previous terrorist attacks. This is because the standard weapons are held by the Palestinian Authority’s security services, which have not joined in the wave of terrorism, and it is difficult to obtain authentic weapons on the black market.
The village of Yatta and the majority in the South Hebron Hills are known to be Hamas strongholds, and there are even pockets of support for the Salafi doctrine of global jihad groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State. Several terrorists have come from the same area in the past.
Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh praised the attack on his Twitter account, but despite their celebration of the event, the group did not claim responsibility for the attack. The terrorists likely needed the assistance of at least one accomplice to transport them and help them infiltrate Tel Aviv. Yet there was no sign that the attack was masterminded by Hamas or any other terrorist group.
According to Palestinian reports, the two terrorists spent the last two years in Jordan, a fact that could lead to the conclusion that they came into contact with other agents. However, the attack’s characteristics lean more toward the conclusion that it still fits the definition of a lone-wolf or two-person attack, in which the assailants do not belong to a particular terrorist organization and didn’t receive instructions from a wider network.
As long as the government fails to take diplomatic steps or make gestures toward the Palestinians to change the atmosphere – which is very unlikely to happen – all the defense establishment can do is manage the crisis. This means continuing coordination with Palestinian security services, improving intelligence, increasing security measures, and allowing Palestinians to continue working in Israel, all in an effort to confine the terrorism and prevent it from spreading.
In other words, Israel is moving in the realm of more of the same, hoping for the best. Tragically, this didn’t happen in Tel Aviv.