Shooting causes car to flip over on Route 60- July 1, 2016.
(photo credit: FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE)
For the first time in two years, Israel finds itself on the brink of Gaza war No. 4. The rapid spiral of violence this weekend was intensely reminiscent of the events that led to Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 – a war which neither Israel nor Hamas wanted.
The violent weekend began on Thursday morning, with the murder of Hallel Yafa Ariel, the 13-year-old from Kiryat Arba who was stabbed to death in her bed by a Palestinian terrorist.
Subsequently, a terrorist attack that afternoon in the Netanya market resulted in two Israelis wounded and the Palestinian attacker killed.
On Friday, a female Palestinian terrorist was killed after she tried to attack a border policewoman with a knife near the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Later that day, Rabbi Michael Mark was killed, his wife was seriously wounded and their two children lightly hurt when terrorists attacked their car in a drive-by shooting near Hebron.
Israel responded by sealing off a large area in the Hebron district, the largest since 2014, when that closure aimed to find the murderers of three kidnapped yeshiva students. It also resulted in the arrests of hundreds of Hamas activists, which led the Gaza-based Islamist movement to increase the rocketing of Israeli villages and cities in the South.
Now, too, the purpose of the closure is to locate and arrest the terrorist who killed Mark and to collect intelligence, but there is an inherent potential for a volatile Palestinian response – and with it a vicious cycle of violence on both sides.
On Friday night, a rocket fired from Gaza hit a community center in Sderot, the first attack since the war of 2014. A small salafist group which challenges Hamas claimed responsibility.
But as far as the Israeli government is concerned, there is only one address responsible for maintaining peace: Hamas.
In the standard ritual developed since the last war, Israel’s reaction to every rocket is an air force strike. As such, according to an IDF statement, four Hamas targets were hit before dawn on Saturday.
During a security cabinet discussion on Saturday night, Education Minister Naftali Bennett suggested that several measures be taken, but all of them smell of “more of the same.”
For Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, this will be his first test. In the past, he found himself in an inflammatory contest with Bennett to undermine the authority of his predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon. Now he is the target for Bennett’s arrows.
So far, it seems that Lieberman sides with the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in their recommendations of how to deal with the situation.
Right now, Israel’s perfunctory and procedural responses to such events seems to have been exhausted. House demolitions, closures, freezing tax money of the Palestinian Authority, revoking the work permits of terrorists’ relatives and beefing up the presence of IDF in the West Bank have all been put in motion.
Two more battalions were sent to the West Bank over the weekend, where already 60 percent of conscripts are assigned to police duties. The security establishment continues to hold the view that Israel must continue to isolate the terrorists by allowing the rest of the population to continue with its daily routine and not to impose collective punishment, a tactic many believe led to the second intifada over a decade ago.
The attacks of the last few days are not different from those of the ongoing campaign of terrorism since last September. They were carried out by relatively young individuals from the West Bank and east Jerusalem with no organizational affiliation, or by illegal workers inside Israel.
Hebron, on the other hand, is known to be a stronghold for Hamas and other small Salafist groups and continues to be a breeding ground for terrorism.
The cabinet and security establishment acknowledge that there is no magical formula here. As long as there are no negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and no hope for a diplomatic breakthrough on the horizon, there will terrorist attacks with varying intensity.
Since the beginning of the terrorist wave 10 months ago, 41 Israelis and two foreigners as well as more than 200 Palestinians were killed (in 2015, 357 Israelis were killed in road accidents).
Is this a tolerable level of violence, which both sides are willing to absorb while they go about their daily routine? So far, it seems that Israelis and Palestinians don’t consider it too heavy a price to pay to maintain the status quo.
However, this weekend indicates a fragile situation in which each incident – even a minor one – can pose a serious danger of escalation.