Analysis: Has the penny dropped on terror in Israel?

What gives? Why are responses much more empathetic this time than in the past?

January 10, 2017 01:15
4 minute read.
Jerusalem terror attack

Scene of Jerusalem ramming attack. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Maybe the penny is starting to drop… at least for the West.

The condemnations that came in from around the world – though not from the Arab world – in response to the ramming attack in Jerusalem on Sunday that killed four soldiers and wounded another 17 seemed a bit different this time.

Gone – for the most part – were the calls for restraint, or pleas to end the cycle of violence, or hints that there are somehow extenuating circumstances for Palestinian terrorism. As one diplomatic official said, the responses this time seemed “tougher” than usual. And there was also greater empathy. For instance, in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was bathed in the colors of the Israeli flag as a show of solidarity.

The UN Security Council pretty much cut and pasted the same exact response to this attack that it issued to those from New Year’s in Istanbul and last month in Berlin.

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Jerusalem on 8 January 2017 in which four Israelis were killed and 15 injured,” a statement by the Security Council read. They expressed “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Israel.” They wished “a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”

The only real difference between this statement, and the ones after the Berlin and Istanbul attacks, was that adjectives such as “heinous and barbaric” were used to describe the terrorist attack in Istanbul, and “barbaric and cowardly” to describe the one in Berlin.

The Jerusalem attack did not warrant any descriptive adjective.

Then the statement continued: “The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.

The members of the Security Council underlined the need for those responsible for this reprehensible act of terrorism to be held accountable.”

It also stated: “The members of the Security Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”

No ifs or buts, rather a clear, strong condemnation.

The UN’s special Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov also condemned the attack, even moving away from a generic description of the attacker and identifying him as a “Palestinian perpetrator.” Mladenov, however, could not part with old patterns, and urged all to “do everything they can to avoid further escalation.”

Language about “avoiding further escalation,” however, was completely absent from the strong and unequivocal condemnations put out by Washington, Moscow and the EU. That language, in previous incidents, has often been a part of their condemnations.

Even Mehmet Simsek, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, a country that has not distinguished itself in recent years in condemning terror attacks in Israel, denounced the attack, posting on Twitter: “Again we condemn another despicable act of terrorism today in Jerusalem.

Humanity deserves nations to unite against terrorism without excuses.”

And French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault, whose country will be hosting a Mideast conference on Sunday – a conference to which Israel is adamantly opposed – said he was “greatly shocked” by the attack.

“I condemn in the gravest terms this abominable attack,” he said. “In these painful moments, France – as always – is in solidarity with Israel.

It stands alongside it in the fight against terrorism and in ensuring security.”

What gives? Why responses much more empathetic this time than in the past? According to diplomatic officials, it is likely a combination of factors. First of all, there is an apparent attempt to calm Israel down following its furious response to the anti-settlement resolution adopted last month in the UN Security Council.

Secondly, some of the responses are likely aimed at softening the blow, before upcoming diplomatic steps with which Israel may not be pleased in the days remaining before US President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

According to diplomatic officials, for instance, the strong French statement is connected to the fact that France suffered a similar type truck ramming attack in Nice, as well as to its playing host next week to the Mideast conference.

“Apparently they want to make nice before that conference,” one official said, to send the message that “we are not against you, we are not your enemies.”

Another factor behind the strong language in these statements is that the condemning nations are now, themselves, targets of terrorist attacks. It is difficult for countries to condemn terrorism as horrible everywhere else – and want it condemned when it happens within their boundaries – then deem it understandable, even acceptable, in Israel.

Well, some can do that. Take the Palestinian Authority, for example. But it looks real bad.

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