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While settler leaders were busy calling disengagement from the Gaza Strip the catalyst behind the latest series of fatal terror attacks, defense officials warned Wednesday of signs representing the initial stages of a new intifada.
The officials were careful not to declare that Israel was in the midst of a new terror wave, but did warn that while the number of attacks had decreased over the past month in comparison to January, the number of terror alerts was slowly rising on an almost daily basis.
If the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) noted 55 alerts at the beginning of February, by the end of the month that had jumped to close to 80.
The defense establishment has yet to officially determine the effect Hamas's electoral victory has had on its terror activity, but one thing is certain: Islamic Jihad and other small groups have decided to utilize the opportunity to lead the armed struggle by escalating their own terror activity.
But security officials said Tuesday's stabbing in Gush Etzion and Wednesday's shooting attacks on the roads of Samaria were typical of recent terror attacks. They were simple, easily implemented and required almost zero planning, nothing on the scale of suicide bombings within the Green Line, Islamic Jihad's ultimate goal.
"The Palestinians are in a jam," one senior security official said. "They want to carry out attacks against Israel but are having difficulty infiltrating the Green Line."
The last bomber to blow up within the Green Line was in January at a Tel Aviv shwarma stand, where dozens were wounded but none killed. The drop in bombings has to do with the incessant IDF and Shin Bet pressure on the West Bank and operations similar to the one in Nablus last week in which troops spent more than five days rounding up fugitives in an effort to break up the local terror infrastructure.
With their ability to launch massive attacks impaired, the terror groups, officials said, were left with no choice but to shoot at random cars, or try to stab hitchhikers - scenes from the early days of the last intifada. Some of the attacks, officials said, were not even organized by established terror groups and were "personal or independent acts."
But another concern is the location of the attacks. Tuesday's stabbing took place in the heart of the relatively safe Gush Etzion settlement bloc. Two weeks ago, terrorists tried to place a bomb in the same area, in Efrat. Another strange attack took place a week-and-a-half ago in Ma'aleh Adumim when a man was stabbed while walking his dog. Wednesday's shooting attacks also occurred near relatively safe places - one near Ariel and the other on a road frequented daily numerous Israelis.
Can we say that settlement blocs have become the terror group's latest targets? Security officials were hesitant to do so, but some were willing to say that with the IDF out of Gaza and the continued construction of the West Bank security fence, terrorists were apparently trying to hit the closest they could to the Green Line, which they were repeatedly failing to infiltrate. Drive-by shootings and stabbings by Palestinians unaffiliated with established terror groups were also almost impossible to prevent without early intelligence.
But with terror operatives in Bethlehem recently trying to fire mortars at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo - a step up from the sporadic gunshots fired at the homes there during the intifada - and with the expectation that the shootings would only continue, Israel, one official said, might find itself in the middle of yet another aggressive round of violence faster than it thought.
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