A Palestinian protester throws a Molotov cocktail towards Israeli security forces during clashes in the village of Beit Omar.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Nadav Argaman made his inaugural appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday to discuss the wave of terrorism.
October 2015 marked a dramatic surge in terrorist attacks, but there has been an overall increase in such incidents in the West Bank since 2012, Argaman explained.
Since the escalation began on October 1, 2015, he said, there have been over 300 attacks and attempted significant attacks, not including cases in which Molotov cocktails were thrown. Among the 300 were 180 stabbing attacks, more than 90 shootings and 30 vehicular attacks. The Shin Bet and security forces were able to foil 240 attacks in that time.
In the first five months of 2016, they prevented 11 suicide bombings, 10 kidnappings and more than 60 attempted shootings, most of which were planned by Hamas.
“Hamas makes nonstop attempts to undermine stability in the West Bank,” Argaman stated.
Still, Argaman said that most of the attacks in the current wave are by individuals acting for “personal motives,” with only a small amount perpetrated by terrorist organizations.
In recent months, the number of terrorist attacks and attempts has decreased. In October, there were 600 attacks, 81 of which were classified as significant, whereas in June, there were 103 attacks, including nine significant ones.
Argaman credited security forces’ success in stopping past attacks and increased deterrence with causing the drop over time. He said forces have been able to focus its deterrents on “attackers and their immediate surroundings, while protecting the fabric of life of the general Palestinian population.”
“All these factors created a sense in the Palestinian public that there is no reason to continue the escalation,” the Shin Bet chief said, citing Palestinian public opinion polling.
At the same time, the threat level in the West Bank remains higher than it was before October, which Argaman said indicates that the situation is still “volatile” and “unusual activities could cause a new outbreak.”
Examples of unusual activities included tension on the Temple Mount or a “reality-changing” terror attack.
As for the Palestinian Authority, Argaman said Palestinians in the West Bank think President Mahmoud Abbas will not remain much longer in his position, and senior Fatah members are jockeying for position in the post-Abbas era.
This political competition has led senior PA officials to make “warlike declarations” to try to become more popular, the Shin Bet chief said.
The calm in Gaza, Argaman said, is misleading, because socioeconomic distress is on thee rise, and Islamic State is challenging Hamas, which is trying to consolidate its power.
In the two years since Operation Protective Edge, there have been 80 terrorist attacks emanating from Gaza, making it the quietest period in over a decade. The perpetrators are almost all from the Salafi-Jihadist margins of the population, Argaman said.
According to the Shin Bet chief, the reason for the relative quiet is a “lack of optimal preparedness for a campaign by Hamas,” which is working to strengthen itself and investing in resources for the next battle.
Hamas is currently dealing with diplomatic isolation and alienation from Sunni states, with an emphasis on Egypt, difficulties with Shi’ite states like Iran, and internal fighting between its military arms and leaders outside of Gaza, he added. Military officials’ relative strength is growing and influencing daily life in Gaza.
While growing poverty in Gaza is eroding support for Hamas, the public does not seem to be trying to overthrow its rule, both because of fear and dependence on the terrorist group, and the lack of an alternative. IS is not popular in Gaza, Argaman stated.