As violent and tense as the last month has been, considering all the buildup and warnings about the inherent danger of Ramadan coinciding with Passover and Easter, things could have been much, much worse.
Of course, four vile terrorist acts that killed 14 people over a 16-day span, violent clashes between Arab rioters and police on the Temple Mount and five rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel over the last week is bad, very bad. But thanks to swift steps and a measured policy taken by the government and the IDF and security forces, the situation has so far remained fairly contained.
The country is not out of the woods yet.
There is still another week of Ramadan, including massive Muslim prayers at the Temple Mount this Friday, the last Friday of the holiday. Then there is Independence Day on May 5; the one-year anniversary of Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza on May 6; the fourth-year anniversary of the US Embassy move to Jerusalem on May 14; Nakba Day, Palestinian “Catastrophe Day,” on May 15; and Jerusalem Day, with its now very fraught flag march through the Old City to the Western Wall on May 29.
There are plenty of off-ramps where things can turn very violent, very quickly. But so far, the government and security apparatus have kept the situation pretty well under control.
How much worse could things have gotten? Think back to last Ramadan and the brouhaha over Sheikh Jarrah and violence on the Temple Mount that led to Hamas rockets being fired on Jerusalem, followed by the large-scale IDF operation against Hamas called Operation Guardian of the Walls.
We’re not there. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis enjoyed a relatively quiet Passover holiday this year, and that is not something to be taken for granted. Somebody was doing something right.
And what are the government, the IDF and the security forces doing right? Carefully calibrating policy to suit the threat.
When the first lone-wolf attack hit on March 22, and then another five days later, and then two others in quick succession after that, the concern was that this would lead to a wave of copycat attacks.
The police and IDF flooded the country’s streets with officers and soldiers; ISIS suspects were arrested; the IDF went on the offensive in West Bank cities and refugee camps and conducted raids and carried out arrests to a degree that has not been seen for years; troops were sent to plug the holes in the security fence to prevent terrorists, like the one who killed five people in Bnei Brak, from just driving into the center of Israel to murder people.
When the rioting started on the Temple Mount on April 15, the police acted swiftly and with a heavy hand, arresting more than 400 people, before opening the mount to tens of thousands of other Muslims who wanted to go there not to create havoc but to pray.
The government also acted to prevent Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir from fanning the flames by marching to the Damascus Gate a week later.
Hamas has been trying to ignite Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even some Arab-Israeli towns – there was a pro-Hamas protest in Umm el-Fahm on Friday. But because of a massive security presence and wise government policy not to allow anything that would play into their hands, they have so far failed.
If Hamas failed to set Jerusalem, the West Bank or any Arab-Israeli cities aflame, the next logical step for the Palestinian terrorist organizations would be rockets on Israel from Gaza. Predictably, therefore, over the last week, five rockets were fired at Israel – after a four-month hiatus – one hitting near a home in Sderot that led to an IDF attack on a munitions facility inside Gaza.
Three other rockets fired at Israel from Gaza over the weekend went unanswered, two fell short inside Gaza, and another fell in an empty field inside Israel. Although Prime Minister Naftali Bennett repeatedly said his government has adopted a policy in Gaza different from that of his predecessor, and that there will be no acceptance at all of any attacks from Gaza – be it Kassam rockets or incendiary balloons – this time Israel did not respond militarily.
However, that does not mean Israel did not respond. On Sunday, it closed the Erez crossing to some 12,000 Gazan workers, with the reopening being dependent on security developments.
Likewise, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said a decision made before Ramadan to increase the number of work permits to Gazans to 20,000 would have to be reexamined “in light of recent events.”
In other words, Israel did respond, just in a different way. Rather than firing rocket for rocket, this time it decided to stop the flow of workers. Currently, unemployment in Gaza is running at some 50%, and these permits are important for the economic well-being of many Gazans.
The unstated hope is that this is a lever that will work on Hamas; that the people will force Hamas both not to fire rockets itself and to prevent other terrorist organizations in the enclave with access to rockets from doing so either.
Will it work? There is no guarantee, just as there is no magic wand to wave to make it all go away. Hamas has never been known to care too much about the well-being of those under its rule. But what the government and security forces have demonstrated in recent days is an effort to gingerly calibrate their responses to match the provocations.
Lone-wolf attackers on the streets? Flood the streets with police and plug holes in the security fence with soldiers. Rioting on the Temple Mount? Act swiftly and without causing fatalities to remove the rioters, and then allow the Ramadan prayers to continue. Rockets from Gaza? Respond to each rocket, if not by striking back militarily, then by removing the carrot of permits for Palestinian workers.
One size doesn’t fit all. Calibrate the reaction to the action. So far, the policy has yielded results. But May – with all its celebrations and all its anniversaries – has historically proven to be a most combustible month.
For the relatives of those 14 people killed in the recent terrorist attacks, things can’t get any worse. But at a national level, the situation could indeed be much graver. And while that might not sound at all comforting or like much consolation, it is a point well worth noting.