The latest wave of terrorism, which broke out in October 2015, has been nicknamed by the media the Lone Wolf Intifada. The public, along with the media, have been trying to make sense of everything that’s happening, to identify trends, and to predict future attacks to the best of their abilities. To that end, the IDF published a report in August which shows that there’s been a decrease in the number of attacks in the past year, and that violent activity perpetrated by Palestinians has actually calmed down. And if we look at the data regarding the number of attacks that took place in 2015 and 2016, we can see that this is in fact true.
Although the latest wave of terrorism began in the last quarter of 2015 and has continued throughout 2016, according to Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) data, there were actually fewer attacks and fatalities in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Jerusalem in 2016 than in the previous year. There were only 17 deaths in 2016 compared with 28 in 2015, most of which (15) were of civilians (14 Israelis, 1 foreign resident), and only the minority security personnel (2).
If we look at the number of terrorist attacks that took place in the West Bank in 2016, we will see a trend that is similar to the previous year.
In Judea, Samaria and Gaza, 1,054 attacks were perpetrated in 2016, which is a significant decrease from the 1,719 attacks that were carried out in 2015. In Jerusalem, the trend is similar: There were 327 attacks in 2016 as opposed to 635 in 2015.
If we look at the Shin Bet statistics carefully, we will understand a few important facts. The most important one is that despite our feeling that we are currently experiencing a tangible heightened security threat, the number of attacks that were carried out this past year is significantly lower than from the previous year.
Granted, there was a slight upward trend in the second half of the year.
This overall downward trend in the number of attacks in 2016 is mainly attributable to the professional intelligence and counter-insurgency activity carried out by the Shin Bet, in cooperation with the IDF and Israel Police. The Shin Bet successfully thwarted over 400 attacks in 2016 alone, the overwhelming majority of which were in the territories. These incidents included 20 cases of intent to carry out kidnappings; 28 cases of intent to carry out suicide attacks; 195 cases of intent to carry out shootings; 55 cases of intent to place roadside bombs; 108 cases of intent to carry out stabbings; and 12 cases of intent to carry out car-rammings.
The Shin Bet has made incredible efforts to curb the production and possession of arms, including improvised munitions by Palestinians in the territories. They’ve located a number of hidden factories in homes and underground locations and tracked traffickers.
The incredibly high number of attacks that the Shin Bet was able to thwart is proof that the security forces are succeeding in a few areas. The first is the foiling of Hamas infrastructure and plans to carry out attacks and kidnappings in Israel. Dozens of Hamas cell operations were thwarted during 2016, including the dismantling of a cell in Nablus that was planning suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa. The Shin Bet was able to destroy its explosives laboratory just before the attack was set to be carried out. A large percentage of these cells are funded by Hamas headquarters in the Gaza Strip and overseas.
The second way that the Shin Bet is succeeding is by developing technological means to thwart lone-wolf attacks. Over this past year, the Shin Bet’s special cyber security unit has identified dozens of individuals who were planning on carrying out lonewolf attacks.
The authorities have also taken other steps to increase deterrence, such as shortening the duration it takes to process demolition orders for terrorists’ homes. This is a very important detail, because the closer the punishment is to the crime, the stronger the deterrence. The lag time still remains too long, but a significant improvement has been registered.
In addition, administrative detention has also been used as a handy tool for arresting suspects who pose an immediate danger, but who cannot be prosecuted for a variety of reasons. Moreover, the terrorism law that went into effect in June has also improved our ability to cope with threats, offer additional tools, and allow the courts to dole out increased punishments.
The last factor is Israeli security forces’ reliable coordination with Palestinian security forces. The two organizations work together to thwart Hamas terrorist activity, with a special emphasis on preventing Hamas from becoming too powerful in Judea and Samaria. It must be noted that since the Duma arson attack in July 2015, there have been no incidents in which Jewish terrorists were involved. This is in great part due to the excellent ground work carried out by Shin Bet operatives, who are working around the clock to put down the rebellion.
They arrest suspects, conduct interrogations, write indictments, and deliver restraining orders. As a result, the level of tension in the territories has fallen considerably.
An intifada is a widespread popular uprising. This is not the current situation, and so the latest wave of violence cannot be called an intifada.
However, we must understand that the relative quiet we’re experiencing is deceptive. Just behind the curtain there are a number of Palestinian groups and individuals – including Hamas – that are busy planning their next terrorist attack. Fortunately, most of these attacks are foiled by the Shin Bet before they can be executed.
At the end of the day, it is very hard to predict when a lone-wolf attack will be carried out, especially since many of the terrorists decide on the spot that they’re going to attack.
Regrettably, this reality will probably not change in the coming year.
In the absence of any progress on the political or diplomatic fronts with regard to the neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, the threat of future attacks remains high, even considering the Shin Bet’s high rate of thwarting them.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.