Israel on high alert
Israel plans to bolster its army and police presence in sensitive areas as it prepares for further terrorist attacks, including Gaza rockets, following a deadly spate of shooting and stabbing incidents that claimed 11 lives in the last week.
Some 1,000 additional IDF soldiers will be posted to the West Bank and the Gaza border. Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev announced the immediate recruitment of 300 Border Police officers and urged the public to volunteer for the Civil Guard.
According to media reports, there are at least five warnings for potential terrorist attacks in Israel.
In a special video address on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged the country to be vigilant, called for civilian volunteers and urged those with gun licenses to be armed.
“Keep an eye open. Whoever has a gun license, it’s time to carry the gun,” Bennett said.
“We are also currently evaluating a larger framework to involve civilian volunteers who want to help and be of assistance,” Bennett said.
According to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the defense establishment is prepared for the “immediate” recruitment of thousands of reservists who would “flood the streets together with the police and act wherever operational activity is required.”
Both men spoke one day after a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli and two Ukrainian civilians as well as the policeman who responded to the attack.
The victims were Yaakov Shalom, a Bnei Brak resident and father of five who was shot while driving his car; and Rabbi Avishai Yehezkeli, a yeshiva teacher and father of two who was shot while he was out with his two-year-old son for an evening stroll.
Two other victims, 38-year-old Victor Sorokopot, and 23-year-old Dimitri Mitrik, were workers from Ukraine who were shot at the entrance of a supermarket.
The Palestinian gunmen, 27-year-old Dia Hamarsha, was later shot dead by a police officer who arrived at the scene on a motorcycle and engaged the shooter in a firefight. The officer, 32-year-old Arab Christian Amir Khouri, was evacuated to Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in critical condition and died from his wounds soon after, making him the fifth victim.
Two other ISIS-linked attacks by Arab-Israelis took place in Beersheba and Hadera in the last week, making it one of the bloodiest seven-day periods since the Second Intifada. Israel was already on edge, concerned that it would face a new wave of violence in April with the onset of the Passover, Ramadan and Easter holidays.
“Citizens of Israel, we are currently experiencing a wave of murderous terrorism and, just like in all the previous waves, we will prevail together,” Bennett said.
“In the last 24 hours, the security establishment has been acting with full force to restore security to Israel’s cities and a feeling of security for you, the citizens,” he added.
The IDF, the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] and Israel Police have significantly increased their intelligence operations to prevent attacks, and security forces have been bolstered, Bennett said, adding, “From my point-of-view, there is no limit on resources.”
The police are working in an “emergency capacity” with the reinforcement of 15 elite IDF companies, Bennett said. There is a call up for Border Police and three new companies will be formed, including one for the Gaza border, Bennett explained.
A new Border Police Brigade has been established as “an immediate response motorcycle unit; this is the force that eliminated the terrorist in Bnei Brak last night,” Bennett said.
Security forces have carried out 200 investigation or arrest operations and have mapped out the home of the Palestinian terrorist in the village of Yabad for demolition, he added.
Security forces are expediting the collection of illegal weapons in Arab communities and are reaching out to anyone with a “previous connection with ISIS.” Forces have been authorized to use administrative detentions if necessary, Bennett said.
“This is neither our first nor our second wave of terrorism. We have experience with struggle. Israeli society, when it is tested, knows how to show composure, remain resilient and rise to the occasion. We cannot be broken.”
Following a situational assessment, the Defense Ministry and senior IDF officials decided that the 15 companies of special forces troops, totaling some 1,000 soldiers, would be dispatched to the seam line while others will be deployed to major cities in accordance to the needs of the police.
The IDF will also provide logistical assistance as needed in order to provide security to the home front. All soldiers who have proper training will be able to bring their weapons home from base, a statement released by the military said.
The IDF has also reinforced various divisions with 14 combat battalions (12 additional battalions in the West Bank and two in the Gaza Division), sniper forces, special forces and increased intelligence and collection capabilities of forces in the field.
“The IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios and will act to the extent necessary to maintain the routine of the lives of the residents of Israel,” said IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi. “IDF forces are deployed with the utmost vigilance in various sectors in order to strengthen defenses and the sense of security of the residents of Israel.”
Kohavi ordered the “immediate implementation” of a number of measures aimed at counter-terrorism efforts, intelligence gathering with a focus on social networks, strengthening IDF readiness in the Palestinian arena and more.
Will the West Bank heat up?
Overnight on Tuesday, Israeli security forces carried out a wave of arrests in the West Bank and mapped the home of the terrorist behind the deadly attack in Bnei Brak in preparation for its demolition.
Forces from the IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police conducted a widespread arrest campaign throughout the West Bank in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, Bethlehem, Kedumim, Ramallah, Marda, Yabad and villages south of Bethlehem.
Clashes broke out between troops and Palestinians during the arrests.
Among those arrested was the brother of the attacker Hamarsha from the village of Yabad in the northern West Bank near Jenin. He was jailed for six months in 2015 for dealing in illegal firearms and affiliation with a terrorist group and had worked illegally at a Bnei Brak construction site.
At least 20 other people including other relatives were arrested in Yabad and interrogated as security services look into whether Hamarsha had any accomplices and how he came to be in possession of the M-16 rifle used in the attack.
The Israel Police said it had arrested 49 Palestinians who were in Israel illegally throughout the day on Wednesday and began criminal investigations against three business owners who employed them, and against drivers of four vehicles being used to transport them.
Gantz also ordered the administrative detention of two residents of east Jerusalem affiliated with Hamas on suspicion of planning violent activities. The arrests were carried out based on the Shin Bet’s recommendation and according to Gantz, “will not be the last.”
According to KAN public broadcaster, Hamarsha’s father said that had he seen any warning signs that his son was about to commit an attack he would not have let him leave their home.
When he was shown videos from the scene of the attack, including by security forces, he said, “I cannot believe it.”
“I did not notice anything unusual in him,” he said. “No one wants his son to die. We are people who love life, and want other people to live.”
Terror attacks: Bnei Brak, Hadera, Beersheba
At around 8 p.m., Hamarsha opened fire on civilians in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, killing four people.
In a video that later circulated on social media, Hamarsha was seen with his M-16, shooting at bystanders and a man driving his car on a residential street. In another video, a man was seen running into a building after Hamarsha’s rifle jammed.
In the aftermath of the attack, Samaria Region Council head Yossi Dagan called on the Defense Ministry to repair and complete the security barrier, noting that the Palestinian attacker had managed to cross through a gap in the barrier.
The left-wing group Yesh Din reported that Jewish extremists had thrown stones at Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank and vandalized a number of Palestinian homes.
Gantz, who spoke to reporters following a situational assessment on Wednesday evening at the headquarters of the IDF’s Central Command, said that both defensive and offensive measures will be taken to prevent further attacks.
“We will take all the means necessary to stop this wave of terrorism,” Gantz said. “We will restore security and stability by showing strength, wisdom and responsibility. We will act in accordance with our long-term vision and security needs.”