In the last week, there were 11 terrorist attacks or attempted attacks in the West Bank.
Three of them were carried out using firearms, claiming the lives of two Israelis and wounding others.
The situation could have been much worse, but the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has managed over the last year to foil more than 100 planned attacks by Hamas.
The Shin Bet announced on Wednesday that it had exposed a new Hamas network
in the Nablus area and arrested 40 suspects. Masterminding the network was Salah Aruri, a top Hamas operative who was released from an Israeli prison a few years ago and now resides in Turkey. Aruri is in charge of reinstating Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, a year after Israeli security forces quashed it prior to the war in Gaza.
In recent months, Israeli officials approached Turkey and, despite the bitter relations between the two countries, asked Ankara to crack down on Hamas operatives there. Before recent events, Israeli sources hinted that Turkey was accommodating, but now it seems that nothing has changed.
Shin Bet director Yoram Cohen told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that since 2014, more than 1,800 attacks had been registered in the West Bank, including stone-throwing incidents, fire bombings, stabbings, and the use of firearms.
In 2012, the Shin Bet recorded nearly 700 such attacks.
It is clear that the West Bank is unstable. Nevertheless, the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment prefer to talk about a “series of events,” of “lone attacks,” of incidents triggered by emotions, fear and atmosphere.
Indeed, it is now Ramadan, a period that may be triggering Palestinians to carry out attacks, including with firearms, against the security forces and settlers. The defense establishment is reticent about mentioning the word “intifada,” preferring to view the situation as being under control.
True, what is happening now is not a popular uprising of the kind we have seen twice before, in the late 1980s and at the beginning of the 21st century. There is no doubt that the situation is different now. This time, it is not the Palestinian Authority or its groups that stand behind the coordination or implementation of the attacks. This time, the PA is even opposed to the attacks and is cooperating – through “security coordination” – with the IDF and the Shin Bet in the efforts to foil attacks.
But it would be a mistake even to contrast the current situation with those intifadas, to judge the present reality in terms of hindsight. That’s something that generals do – preparing for a future war based on their past experiences of war.
Here, the terminology is not important.
What is important is reality, which must be seen through the eyes of today. The current unrest may not be the same as those two intifadas, but it nonetheless poses a serious threat.
Forty-eight years after the Six Day War, the Palestinian residents of the West Bank are still opposed to Israeli “occupation,” and they refuse to accept that situation, which continues to play itself out in the settlements, the land appropriations, the road blocks, the borders, and their lives as second- class citizens – or even lower.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have pointed their fingers at the Palestinian Authority, claiming it engages in incitement against Israel. True, the Palestinian education system does not promote ideas of coexistence, and its media veer toward incitement. There is no doubt that Hamas would continue its efforts to set its terrorist foot in the West Bank. But the root of the problem is the lack of a political horizon or any sort of hope for a change in the situation, any promise of a better future.
There can be no political process with a defense minister who does not believe in one and a prime minister who is committed to torpedoing the idea of a two-state solution.
In a situation like this, all that’s left for the security forces (the IDF and the Shin Bet) to do is walk on eggshells – to use their intelligence, reinforce their personnel, and try to locate and arrest terrorist suspects, but in a balanced enough way to allow the daily lives of Palestinians to continue without interference.
At least until the next incident – or at the very worst, until the next major outbreak.