From peace summits to burying our terror victims - opinion

The Negev Summit this week was tarnished by a terror attack that happened on the same evening where two people were murdered.

 POLICE OFFICERS and rescue forces are seen at the scene of Tuesday night’s terror attack in Bnei Brak.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
POLICE OFFICERS and rescue forces are seen at the scene of Tuesday night’s terror attack in Bnei Brak.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

On Monday night, hundreds of people, including the top IDF brass, gathered at a Military Intelligence base adjacent to the Glilot Junction north of Tel Aviv to mark the 20th anniversary of Defensive Shield, the operation that changed the Second Intifada.

There was something a bit celebratory in the air and the IDF went all out. There were bands, singers, movies and speeches. After all, Defensive Shield – launched after the Park Hotel massacre on Seder night in 2002 – turned the tide in Israel’s battle to stop Palestinian suicide attacks and ultimately helped restore security to the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and beyond.

There was also no way that anyone could have known that as the IDF generals were gathering in Glilot, a 27-year-old Palestinian from a small village near Jenin was making the final preparations for the attack he would carry out the following night in Bnei Brak, where he would murder five people on the same day that Defensive Shield was launched 20 years earlier.

What is happening on Israel’s streets are not isolated incidents. This is a terror wave across Israel that has seen attacks in the South (Beersheba), the North (Hadera) and now the center (Bnei Brak).

Eleven people murdered on the streets of some of Israel’s main cities in the span of a week is unprecedented in recent years, and the involvement of three Israeli-Arabs in the attacks – one from the Bedouin village of Hura and two from Umm el-Fahm – creates even greater concern.

 Day 2 of the Negev Summit (credit: ASSI EFRATI/GPO) Day 2 of the Negev Summit (credit: ASSI EFRATI/GPO)

The assumption within the defense establishment is that the wave is not over yet. Sadly, history shows how one attack leads to another and draws out copycats who are inspired to carry out their own. That is what happened in 2015 during the so-called stabbing intifada which wreaked havoc, particularly on the streets of Jerusalem.

FOR NOW, it also seems that the attackers are a step ahead of Israel’s security and intelligence services. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is not looking good these days after three attacks – two including assault rifles – which it was not able to stop.

For many Israelis, this undoubtedly brings back the days that we had hoped were long behind us – when we had to calculate the risk of going out to a coffee shop, boarding a bus or standing in line to enter a supermarket. The days when we used to inspect any person wearing a heavy coat on a warm spring day or carrying a large backpack.

When parents have to consider whether their children should be allowed out at night or whether they should go for a walk on a main city street, this is the result of terror, which undermines the public’s basic sense of security. This is when terror wins – and this is what needs to be defeated.

What happened in Israel this past week of terror is a stark contrast to the previous week. Then, the country was all focused on the historic peace summits – President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Turkey; Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trilateral meeting with the leaders of Egypt and the UAE in Sharm el-Sheikh; and the Negev Summit Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held with four of his Arab counterparts and the US secretary of state.

It seemed like a new era of regional harmony. Israeli government officials hailed its success, particularly because these summits were able to come together despite the Palestinians. Israel’s ability to disengage the Palestinian issue from the rest of the region was in fact impressive.

But instead of having time to celebrate these impressive accomplishments, Israel is burying its dead. The attacks have also brought the Palestinian issue back to the forefront. If Bennett thought he could get away from having to talk about the Palestinians, more violence and more Israeli action in response will see more international pressure on his government.

This also has the potential to turn into his government’s biggest test. It is one thing for Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas to condemn every act of terror. It will be another for him to remain inside a coalition that embarks on an operation that sees action against Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians.

AND THIS is where it gets complicated. Defensive Shield saw the return of Israel to all of the Palestinian cities it had left years earlier under the Oslo Accords. IDF troops went house-to-house and door-to-door hunting for terrorists and their weapons. The operation included tanks, helicopters and infantry battalions. It was the likes of something not seen since.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi knows the operation well. He was the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade then and came of age in the narrow alleyways of the Nablus Kasbah market where he helped uproot Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist infrastructure that had been behind some of the deadliest suicide attacks at the time.

Bennett had a similar story. In New York at the time serving as CEO of his hi-tech company, he boarded the first flight to Israel after the Park Hotel bombing and joined his reserve unit, which was taking up positions outside Tulkarm.

Both fought in the Palestinian cities and saw what a determined operation can do to weed out terrorism.

The question today is whether any of this is relevant considering the threat Israel is currently facing.

And it is not even clear that such action is needed. Defensive Shield came after a year-and-a-half of nonstop terrorist attacks against the Jewish state that came almost exclusively from the West Bank. It also did not stop the attacks – they continued. But it did turn the tide in the war on terror and was only the first step in what has followed for the last 20 years – daily IDF and Shin Bet operations in the West Bank to stop terrorist infrastructure from even growing.

Two decades of daily operations – mostly coordinated today with the Palestinian Authority – have helped keep terror there to a minimum.

ANOTHER IMPORTANT point is that Defensive Shield was possible because it took place in territory that is not officially part of Israel, but is under military control – and was against non-Israeli combatants. Two of the last three attacks were carried out by Israeli citizens, people whose civil liberties are protected by Israeli law and have rights no different than the people who they are attacking.

Does anyone imagine the IDF going door-to-door in Umm al-Fahm or Rahat like it did 20 years ago in Nablus and Jenin? Should the IDF be allowed to operate against Israeli citizens? The same applies to cyber technology like Pegasus. It is one thing to use it against suspected Palestinian terrorist suspects; it is another to use it against Israeli citizens.

Which is why the response to what Israel is currently facing is going to have to be different. What we are facing right now – barring a massive eruption of violence in the West Bank – is more like the 2015 wave of violence whose trademark was lone wolf attackers, people who acted alone without established terrorist organizations behind them.

Israel’s objective right now is to show potential attackers that launching an attack is not worth it. The police will be pouring into the streets and trying to give people a sense of security. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has been working the phones talking to mayors and council heads from Arab towns who have promised their cooperation in helping police round up the 500,000 weapons estimated to be located in homes and businesses in the sector.

Two decades after Defensive Shield, it is attractive to lean back, reminisce and think that there are magic solutions to terrorism. But there aren’t. The people of Israel are a resilient people and have overcome greater threats and challenges in the past. It will take time, but it will overcome this wave as well.