Despite epidemic of 'Lone Wolf' terrorists, don't expect widespread unrest

While the last few months have seen increased Palestinian violence, IDF sources doubt John Kerry’s assessment that a third intifada could break out should peace talks fail.

IDF troops Hebron 22.9.13 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF troops Hebron 22.9.13 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry made headlines last week after forecasting the outbreak of a third intifada, in the event that Israeli-Palestinian talks hit a dead end.
But the IDF’s assessment of the security situation in the West Bank has reached a different conclusion, and behind closed doors, senior officers express doubt that a new wave of mass violence and terrorism is on the horizon – even if (or when) talks fail.
Although recent months have seen an increase in deadly Palestinian terror attacks on soldiers and civilians, in the IDF’s eyes, the increase in incidents is far from constituting an “intifada.” What characterizes most of the recent violence are lone Palestinian individuals who act without the backing of a terrorist organization, or a limited number of Palestinian youths who take part in containable disturbances.
The disturbances draw familiar faces, and occur in the same locations, according to a senior IDF officer, who said that those who arrive for rioting are “one-third foreign activists, onethird journalists, and one-third Palestinians who were told to come.”
“Lone wolf” terrorists, such as the Palestinian teenager who stabbed an IDF soldier to death on a bus in Afula this week, are driven to act by incitement to violence in Palestinian media, demonization of Israelis and a general atmosphere generated by the Palestinian Authority that is supportive of attacks.
They are the hardest type of attacker to stop, since, as a senior army official said recently, Israel’s security agencies can hardly peer into the minds of lone attackers, who do not communicate their plans with others and are not part of terrorist networks that are under the surveillance of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
“We can’t know ahead of time about an attack that is solely in the mind of one individual, or intercept the message between the attacker’s head and arm,” the officer stated.
When forecasting a low probability for a new intifada, senior IDF officers point to the fact that Hamas in Gaza, which is regularly trying to reconstruct its terrorism infrastructure in the West Bank, is in a weakened position due to regional changes – mainly the overthrow of its ally, the Muslim Brotherhood, from power in neighboring Egypt.
This has weakened Hamas and strengthened its rival, Fatah, and put the brakes on Hamas’s rising influence, placing the Hamas regime in a geopolitical corner.
In addition, Fatah-led PA security forces have been carrying out raids against Hamas and Islamic Jihad cells in the West Bank.
Not one of the past eight terror attacks against Israelis can be linked to an established terrorism network, officials say, though they stress they are highly concerned by the increase in violence.
Despite widespread incitement to violence, security forces say they are not seeing across-the-board Palestinian support for new conflict with Israel. Those pushing for a new intifada “are not succeeding in enlisting the majority,” the source said. Despite calls in the Palestinian media to “defend al-Aksa [Mosque],” most Palestinians are staying home.
The main reason for this is economic, the source continued. The last time rioting broke out on a larger scale was in 2012, during protests that erupted over the high cost of living, he observed.
“The economic situation of the Palestinian Authority directly influences levels of security,” he stated.
Nevertheless, the army has found itself facing a limited upsurge of terrorism, and in seeking to explain it, IDF sources have pointed to “an atmosphere of terrorism” that has created a certain momentum towards attacks, which has swept along Palestinian individuals.
Last month, for example, Younis Obaidim from Beit Hanina was driving a bulldozer in the West Bank when he made a snap decision to ram it into an IDF base near Ramallah, before trying to run over soldiers. He was shot dead by soldiers on base.
Obaidim did not share his intentions with anyone, according to the investigation by security forces, and his brother, with whom he had been working minutes before the attack, tried to reach him by cellphone to find out where he had disappeared to.
“He decided to do it on the spur of the moment,” a senior IDF officer said of the attack. “Ultimately, there’s a public echo [of violence] at work.”
Another brother of Obaidim attempted a similar bulldozer attack in Jerusalem, trying to run down a police vehicle in 2009, before being shot dead.
Despite the seemingly random nature of lone terrorists, some factors make them more likely to act than others. Palestinians who have lost relatives in conflict with Israel, or whose family members are in Israeli prisons for terrorist activity, seem to be more likely to “activate themselves” in a sudden manner.
In the case of the knife-wielding Palestinian teenager who murdered a soldier in Afula, the youth has relatives incarcerated for severe security offenses. Similarly, Nedal Amar, the Palestinian who lured an Israeli soldier who worked with him at a Bat Yam restaurant to his death in September, has a brother who is a Tanzim member, who was imprisoned in 2003 for taking part in a suicide bombing attack.
The number of Palestinians who meet the criteria of posing an elevated risk for lone-wolf attacks is large, numbering some 100,000, according to security estimates.
Ultimately, however, in the event that Israel and the PA “agree to disagree,” in the words of the high-ranking officer, the chances of a new wave of terrorism and rioting remain slim.