Corona, normalization, Biden have Palestinian terror on the run - analysis

Last Friday, Meir Amit ITIC director and IDF Col. (res.) Reuven Ehrlich passed away suddenly at the age of 75.

The knife at the scene of were a stabbing attack was attempted in Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem, February 21, 2020.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The knife at the scene of were a stabbing attack was attempted in Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem, February 21, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
A combination of the coronavirus, the Israeli-Arab normalization wave and the election of US President Joe Biden have put Palestinian terror at a low point during the recent era, an annual intelligence center report said on Thursday.
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report said that the coronavirus had reduced operational capabilities, readiness and motivation for terror groups in both the West Bank and Gaza, with an especially dramatic drop in rocket fire from Hamas.
As the ITIC report said, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other groups simply had their hands full with surviving and trying to maintain internal order, and corona has made coordination far more difficult.
According to the report, the PA and Hamas were pummeled simultaneously “with a medical crisis following the outbreak of the coronavirus and a severe economic and humanitarian crisis.”
In addition, the report notes the success of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in thwarting terror plots.
While the agency has had significant success in this arena since the 2015-2016 “Knife Intifada,” it is also possible that limitations on meeting in-person during corona have forced more terrorist communications into the electronic sphere. This could enhance the Shin Bet’s ability to monitor them.
Next, the report called the normalization deals Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain a “major blow to the Palestinian Authority, which has been forced to come to terms with [the reality] that [Israel’s] acceptance of the Palestinians’ parameters for a final status deal is no longer a condition for Arab countries to formalize relations with Israel.
“The normalization deals also clarified that the Palestinian issue is no longer at the top of the Arab agenda,” the report said.
Regarding the impact of the incoming Biden administration, the intelligence center said that the simple fact of Biden’s election and the generally more positive signals he sent to the Palestinians (even with no concrete moves to date) have already shifted the PA “into a more optimistic outlook.”
Adding to the expectation that Biden will restore financial aid, diplomatic support and potentially encourage goodwill gestures toward the PA from Israel, the authority restored security cooperation with the Jewish state as well as receiving Israeli transfers of customs revenues, it said.
Security cooperation was cut in May 2000 to protest potential Israeli annexation moves relating to the West Bank, which were shelved as part of the UAE deal.
The report said that the PA’s return to security and economic cooperation with Israel also related to the medical and economic strains caused by the corona crisis.
Further, the report said that even as terror seemed to increase slightly from 34 attacks in 2019 to 40 in 2020 by some measures, a more careful analysis showed a decrease in terror.
For one thing, only three Israelis were killed in terror attacks in 2020 as compared to five in 2019 and 12 in 2018.
In addition, only 46 Israelis were injured in attacks in 2020 compared to 66 in 2019 and 83 in 2018.
The 2020 attacks included 19 stabbings, five shootings, six explosive attacks and six rammings as well as other assorted attacks. The report also noted around a thousand rock-throwing incidents and about 200 incidents where Molotov cocktails were used.
All of this is significantly lower than the 171 and 142 attacks per year respectively in the 2015-2016 Knife Intifada era.
Itic explained that the type of attacks and who carried them out were far less deadly in 2020 than in past years.
If in previous years there were more attacks by organized terror groups with more deadly weapons, in 2020 the attacks were more typically carried out by individuals.
Also, many attacks involved rock throwing, Molotov cocktails or at worst stabbing or ramming, as opposed to a larger volume of shootings and other more violent ones.
The Shin Bet helped reduce the impact of terror by thwarting the majority of plots, including 430 prevented attacks in 2020.
Still, in 2019 the agency stopped 564 attacks from happening, suggesting that far fewer attacks were attempted in 2020.
Of the 430 thwarted attacks, 283 would have involved shooting, 70 stabbing, 10 ramming, 62 explosives and five kidnapping.
Terror emanating from Gaza faced the most dramatic drop-off with a mere 196 rockets in 2019 (of which 113 were fired during a flare up over February 23-24) versus more than seven times as many (1,419) in 2019, the report said.
It noted that 2020 was still not as quiet as the years 2015-2017, with less than 30 rockets fired each year. It was also a very far cry from 2014, when 3,852 rockets were fired from Gaza during the 50-day-long war that summer.
The report said that the use of fire kites and explosive balloons also dropped substantially in 2020.
Meanwhile, last Friday, Meir Amit ITIC director and IDF Col. (res.) Reuven Ehrlich passed away suddenly at the age of 75.
Ehrlich was the center’s founder and had run the institute for 20 years.
Prior to 2000, Ehrlich served for decades in the IDF in intelligence, command and research, reaching second in command to the Coordinator of Government Activities in Lebanon and participating in Israeli-Lebanese peace negotiations in Washington.