Jerusalem bombings don't mark beginning of third intifada - analysis

The two bombings in Jerusalem have people thinking about the two intifadas, but the circumstances are different now.

Funeral of Aryeh Shechopek who was killed earlier today in a terror attack when two explosions at two bus stops at the entrances to Jerusalem that also left at least another 13 injured. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Funeral of Aryeh Shechopek who was killed earlier today in a terror attack when two explosions at two bus stops at the entrances to Jerusalem that also left at least another 13 injured.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Israel has been in the grips of a mini-wave of terror since March.

Shootings, stabbings and car rammings had, as of Tuesday, claimed 27 Lives in the last 8 Months, the highest number of terror fatalities since 2015, when 36 people were murdered. 

Still, Wednesday’s twin terror attack in Jerusalem  -- which brought the grisly fatality rate up to 28 -- felt different than the others. 

It felt different because it set the mind racing back to the horrible bus bombings in 1995-1996, and the mind-numbing attacks of the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. The mind went there not because Wednesday’s attack was anywhere near as deadly as some of the suicide bombing attacks during those periods, but rather because of the images and sounds this attack left behind.  

Again, a massive explosion rocked parts of Jerusalem. Again, injured people bleeding at bus stops. Again, shattered bus windows. Again, breathless reporters on the scene. Again, marbles and nails were strewn about -- packed into the bomb to maximize damage. 

 Israeli security forces and medics gather in Jerusalem following an explosion at a bus stop which wounded at least seven people, two of them seriously, on November 23, 2022.  (credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images) Israeli security forces and medics gather in Jerusalem following an explosion at a bus stop which wounded at least seven people, two of them seriously, on November 23, 2022. (credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

This was not what we have become accustomed to over the last eight months: lone wolf attackers carrying out seemingly random attacks.  This was well-planned and well-executed. This was not a terrorist with personal problems who wanted to end his life in a sick blaze of glory to gain “martyr” status among Palestinians (and some Israeli Arab MKs), and ensure payments to his family from the Palestinian Authority.

No, this was carefully planned and organized. Explosives had to be procured, bombs with detonators had to be built, targets carefully selected, and a terrorist found who would be willing and able to transport and plant the bombs. That two different bombs were planted at two different sites only made the task more difficult and complex.  

This type of attack takes infrastructure and a degree of expertise. It is not a terrorist stabbing men at a gas station, then stealing a car and going on a car-ramming rampage, as was the case last week in Ariel. 

And therein lies the paradox.  Precisely because there are more people involved in carrying out this type of attack, and precisely because it takes more planning and preparation, it has more of a chance of appearing on the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) radar screen than a lone attacker who just wakes up one morning and decides he wants to kill some Jews. While signs about this attack were not picked up beforehand by the shin bet, dozens of others have been over the last several months. 

Well-planned and executed bombing attacks cause more worry because of the concern that the cell can strike again. But because it is a cell - and not an individual -- it is also more likely to leave tracks.  

Nevertheless, it is the planned and well-executed nature of the attack -- as well as the use of explosives -- that sets the mind worrying more than it did following last week’s attack near Ariel, an attack that was more deadly than Wednesday’s, leaving three people murdered. If the cell that carried out Wednesday’s coordinated attacks was able to successfully carry them out, if it was able to set off explosives in the capital twice in one morning, then it could conceivably carry out more, even deadlier attacks in the future.  

So the mind -- automatically -- races back to the Second Intifada. Yet it shouldn’t: there are several substantial differences between then and now. 

What is the difference between this attack and intifadas?

The first difference is that the IDF can and will go into any Palestinian city and neighborhood  -- including refugee camps in Jenin, the Nablus casba and Hebron -- whenever it wants. That was not true of the first two years of the Second Intifada -- until Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 --when Israel stayed out of Area A, areas that under the Oslo Accords were under exclusive Palestinian Authority security and civilian control. 

While 28 Israelis have now been killed in the last eight months, some five times that number of Palestinians -- the vast majority being terrorists or Palestinians violently confronting IDF soldiers --  have been killed, many of those inside Area A where the IDF operates when it feels it must.

It is not as if the IDF has not been busy taking action to quell this mini-wave of terror. It has, and it is only because of these daily and nightly actions that the number of Israeli fatalities has not been much higher.  By contrast, during the early days of the Second Intifada, the IDF dared not go into Area A, something that allowed for the establishment of a local bomb-making industry that wreaked havoc on Israel. 

It took the IDF until April 2022, Operation Defensive Shield, to move IDF forces into the Palestinian cities to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that had developed there. Today Israel acts continuously against that infrastructure. No area is out of bounds. That is a major difference between then and now. 

Secondly, in the early days of the Second Intifada, before the IDF moved back into the Palestinian cities, Israel's intelligence about what was going on in those cities was limited. Today its intelligence picture is significantly better. 

Third, there remains nominal security coordination and cooperation with the PA, and Wednesday’s attacks -- praised by PA President Mahmoud Abbas's rivals Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- are a challenge to Abbas because he is presented as someone not doing enough to “resist the occupation.” This is different from the Second Intifada when Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority was largely behind the terror war against Israel. 

There are numerous explanations for the recent uptick in terror, one of which is that it has to do with jockeying for power among the various Palestinian factions for the day after Abbas. One way for the various competing factions to o prove their bona fides in this maneuvering for position is to carry out attacks against Israelis. In the chaos sure to ensue when Abbas departs, the individual controlling the faction with the biggest gun will be in the strongest position to succeed him. 

Fourth, various hurdles are in place now, that were not in place in 2000, to make carrying out attacks more difficult. The most significant of these hurdles is the security fence.  Before it was erected, terrorists could simply walk across fields and blow themselves up inside Israel’s cities.  

Today, because of the security fence, the terrorist needs to exert much more energy and effort to get into the country, increasing the likelihood that along the way he will slip up and his plans will be discovered and foiled. 

Wednesday’s double bombing attack undoubtedly represents a new phase in the ongoing eight-month-old mini-wave of terror.  But the country need not frighten itself more than necessary by saying that this phase puts it on the cusp of another intifada.  The conditions today are much different than they were in 2000, and largely to Israel's advantage.