Stop the wave before it becomes a tsunami -analysis

On Thursday, the suspect, Ra’ad Fathi Hazem, whose father is a former officer in the Palestinian security forces, shot Israeli civilians at two locations on Dizengoff street.

 Israeli police officers and rescue forces are seen at the scene of a shooting attack in Bnei Brak, March 29, 2022. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Israeli police officers and rescue forces are seen at the scene of a shooting attack in Bnei Brak, March 29, 2022.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Two men were killed at a bar on central Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff street in a shooting attack carried out by a lone-wolf attacker, who escaped the scene before being killed by security forces. However, it was not on Thursday night, but in 2016.

The same attack, six years apart.

The 2016 attack was carried out by Arab-Israeli Nashat Melhem, who opened fire on the Simta Bar on Dizengoff Street, killing Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi. He later killed Amin Shaaban, a taxi driver who Melhem shot as he was making his escape.

The November 2016 attack took place as the world was grappling with terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic State. Just weeks earlier, ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in coordinated attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, bars, restaurants and a soccer stadium in Paris.

Israel was also in the middle of a wave of violence, dubbed the “Knife Intifada” that took place in 2015-2016, when Palestinian youths stabbed, ran over and shot Israeli soldiers, civilians and tourists.

Six years later, while ISIS has lost its territorial caliphate, Israel is once again in the middle of a wave of violence, and the ideology of the Sunni terrorist group remains alive in Israel and the Palestinian territories, albeit weaker.

Among West Bank youth, jihadism, in the name of al-Aqsa and Palestine – especially in the violent city of Jenin – continues to inspire.

On Thursday, the suspect, Ra’ad Fathi Hazzem, whose father is a former officer in the Palestinian security forces, shot Israeli civilians at two locations on Dizengoff Street.

Running through the center of Tel Aviv, Dizengoff is one of the busiest streets in the country, especially on Thursday and Friday night, when the bars, restaurants and cafés that line the thoroughfare are full.

This is just the latest attack in a two-and-a-half week-long wave of terrorist killings committed by Israeli Arab and Palestinian lone wolves.

Security forces had been on high alert after three other attacks in the cities of Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak killed 11 people; more than the past three years combined.

The already heavy death toll had led the government to reinforce IDF troops and police forces with thousands of soldiers from elite military units. Hundreds of other soldiers were placed at points along the Seam Line, where thousands of Palestinians enter Israel illegally on a daily basis, like Hazzem and the attacker from Bnei Brak, Diaa Hamarsheh.

Unlike the attacks in Hadera and Beersheba, which are believed to have been driven by ISIS ideology, Hazzem and Hamarsheh were not believed to be affiliated to any terrorist group and therefore were not on the radar of security forces.

Israeli officials have vowed to crack down on those who wish to sow terror on Israeli streets while at the same time are trying to allow Palestinians to continue on with their lives and come to Jerusalem to pray at al-Haram al-Sharif, during Ramadan. Al-Haram al-Sharif is the Arabic term for the site of the Temple Mount and it is called The Noble Sanctuary in English.

In light of what seems to be part of a lengthy wave of terrorism, officials will need to change the direction of their offensive.

While nobody wants another military operation inside West Bank towns and cities as occurred during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, something needs to be done about Jenin – where Hazzem and Hamarsheh came from.

Jenin is one of the more violent cities and refugee camps in the West Bank. Israeli security forces and Palestinian Authority security forces tend not to operate there.

In April 2002, exactly 20 years ago, IDF troops entered Jenin as part of Operation Defensive Shield.

Troops, among them IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, went house to house searching for terrorist operatives. The fiercely fought “Battle of Jenin” is still vivid in the minds of all General Staff officers, as well as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

In January, Kohavi is reported to have said that the IDF has plans to operate in the city and was ready to launch a large-scale operation to act against terrorist cells. The plan was stopped after PA forces were pressured into acting.

Less than three months later, the violence has not dissipated.

Because of that, extremists feel more confident in carrying out attacks and engaging with security forces who might enter the camp or city.

It was also in Jenin that security forces thwarted an armed Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) called a “ticking bomb.”

With weapons awash on the streets in the West Bank, Jenin youths do not need to belong to any terrorist group in order to carry assault rifles or use them to carry out deadly attacks.

Security forces need to focus the appropriately titled operation “Break the Wave” on the city, with troops operating in Jenin and its camp both day and night.

If jihadism can’t be extinguished, the weapons used to carry out these attacks at the very least must be confiscated.

Without a true offensive, with or without the cooperation of Palestinian security forces, the current wave of violence will become a tsunami.