Good luck stopping lone wolf terrorist attacks -analysis

Lone wolf attacks have, for centuries, been a deadly phenomenon across the world, not only in Israel.

 IDF soldiers near the scene of a stabbing attack near Ariel that left 3 dead and 3 injured. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)
IDF soldiers near the scene of a stabbing attack near Ariel that left 3 dead and 3 injured.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

No, you can’t stop lone-wolf attacks.

Lone-wolf attacks have, for centuries, been a deadly phenomenon across the world, not only in Israel.

The deadly attack outside the West Bank city of Ariel on Tuesday carried out by 18-year-old Muhammed Soof comes at a time when the IDF noted a decrease in terrorist warnings in the West Bank.

Soof, who had a work permit and came daily to the gate where he began his deadly rampage, was not on the radar of any security agency – not the IDF nor the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). He did not have any history of terrorism or crime that would have prevented him from obtaining a work permit – or that could have raised warning bells to the security establishment.

 A damaged vehicle is inspected at the scene of an attack, at the Ariel Industrial Zone, November 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) A damaged vehicle is inspected at the scene of an attack, at the Ariel Industrial Zone, November 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

While the number of attacks has subsided, it is reminiscent of the stabbing intifada that took place in 2015-2016, during which Palestinian youths stabbed, run over and shot Israeli soldiers and civilians, including some tourists.

Many of these attackers, like the ones who have carried out attacks since the most recent wave began in March, were lone wolves.

What is lone-wolf terrorism?

Lone wolves do not belong to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Lions’ Den or any other terrorist group that raises its ugly head against Israelis.

These are individuals whose age varies, inspired by vicious incitement from social-media networks and traditional media on television screens and radios. These are individuals who feel as though they have nothing to lose, and they can randomly choose, at any given moment in the day, to use whatever weapon is closest to them to brutally murder victims chosen at random.

In Soof’s case, he came armed with a knife and killed two people before he chose another weapon – a stolen car – to kill another civilian.

How can lone-wolf terrorism be stopped

Attacks by lone wolves, the IDF has admitted, are much more challenging to thwart than attacks planned by groups. If you don’t have an organization, you don’t have the signature of the preparedness of the specific attack. Despite the challenges, the great majority of attacks have been thwarted by security forces.

The majority of these thwarted attacks had the signature of an organized plan, with online footprints for the Shin Bet to follow.

But with any successful attack, security forces have their work cut out for them to prevent copycat attacks by other lone wolves, and to scour their sources, online and offline, to find any sort of hint of a needle in the West Bank haystack and stop them before it’s too late.

The security establishment cannot let itself be caught off guard and play catch-up to contain and neutralize threats before attackers decide that today is their day to die.