The murderous terrorist attack that tore through Jerusalem last Friday evening served as a stark reminder of the terrorism challenges faced by Israel. The shooting, in which seven civilians were murdered, was the latest and worst of several gun attacks over the past year and marks a peak in the latest round of the struggle between Israel and terrorist factions.
The arenas generating terrorism against Israel today are Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and from within Israel itself. A secondary front in this context of Palestinian terrorism is the Lebanese front, which stretches from Rosh Hanikra to the tri-border region where Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet, and where Hamas has operated in the past two years.
Globally, Israeli and Jewish overseas targets remain under threat, mainly from Iranian elements, Hezbollah and ISIS.
Judea and Samaria form the core of the terrorist escalation that Israel faces. The region is saturated with firearm attacks of the type seen in the deadly attack in Jerusalem’s Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood and bands together localized terrorist elements and lone attackers. It is filled with terrorists who are not affiliated to any one faction, thereby constituting a new trend.
Terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria include shootings, stabbings and car rammings perpetrated by lone or localized groups of attackers. This forms an escalation from the wave of lone-wolf attackers in 2015, which was largely based on stabbings and car-ramming incidents.
A primary engine for encouraging and inciting terrorism is provided by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hezbollah, who operate out of Gaza and Lebanon. It is they who orchestrate the modern terrorism model of 2022-2023.
New kinds of armed groups
In Judea and Samaria, a new kind of armed group has emerged that is defined by local geography and includes the participation of elements from PIJ, Hamas and Fatah. This model of terrorism is prominent in Jenin, where the Palestinian Authority lost control, along with control of the Jenin refugee camp, more than four years ago. On the ground, the Jenin terror model has served as an inspiration for others, as seen in Nablus and to a certain degree in Ramallah and its surroundings.
The PA’s loss of control over events in its territory, alongside the Palestinian population’s hatred and lack of faith in the Authority, due to its corruption and disdain for its people as well as deep national frustration, converge to create a precipitous decline in the security situation.
On the other hand, the majority of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria vote with their feet every morning by not taking part in terrorism and instead, going out to work – including over 130,000 of whom work in Israel or in the settlements. The economy is restraining mass terrorism and is distancing us from scenarios of a full-blown third intifada.
Such an intifada is still, however, on the horizon and could take the form of large numbers of shooting attacks and members of Fatah joining the cycle of violence.
Following the significant security operation in Jenin last Thursday, January 26, in which several terrorists were killed, resulting in a major blow to PIJ, which is leading the terrorism on the ground, the spotlight turned to the core threat: eastern Jerusalem.
For years, east Jerusalem has been a target for terrorist inciters. Over 300,000 east Jerusalem Palestinian residents are targeted with messages designed to generate hatred and promote attacks in the lone attacker format, as seen in neighboring Judea and Samaria.
In this context, the eastern Jerusalem population has advantages, as it is an intrinsic part of the fabric of Israeli life with unrestricted entry to greater Jerusalem thanks to Israeli residency cards, though not citizenship, out of their choice.
THE SITUATION of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods contributes to resentment against Israel. Many do not view themselves as part of Israel and the religious hatred that burns there is the core of the fire that is driving the current escalation. Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount is a frequent theme in the growing terror activities, which endanger Jewish civilians throughout the city and country.
Future mass casualty incidents are certainly a possibility. Security on this front is under the control of the Israel Police since Jerusalem is a domestic security zone.
Last Saturday’s shooting attack on an Israeli father and his son, perpetrated by a 13-year-old Palestinian boy in eastern Jerusalem armed with a handgun and resulting in serious injuries to both of them, testifies to the severity of the risk posed by the eastern Jerusalem population, the incitement and the deeds some members of this community are prepared to commit. A culture of hate is implanted in these youths from a young age.
Contact between eastern Jerusalem Palestinians and Israelis has not brought them closer together and even though many work in Israel, when they return home, they switch from economy mode to hatred mode.
Two central incitement elements are behind this trend: Hamas and the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by Raed Saleh. Social media, mosques and even official channels are used to spread the hate.
In response, Israel’s government and security cabinet must immediately formulate a strategy and policy for the short-term and medium-term regarding eastern Jerusalem. In the first stage, a thickening and reinforcement of the security presence are required in areas bordering eastern Jerusalem and for the protection of sites that are prone to attacks.
Flooding the streets with security forces in sensitive areas will enable a rapid response to shooting attacks, potentially saving tens of lives in each attack.
To that end, the organizational structure and the technological and intelligence means used by the Israel Police must be upgraded, with more resources allocated and legal backing for the deployment of advanced capabilities used by the defense establishment in other arenas.
This will be a long process but it must begin now, in time for the sensitive period of Ramadan (beginning in March), Passover and Independence Day, a period in which Israel is committed to flattening the curb of terrorism.
The rapid demolition and sealing of homes used by terrorists, economic punishment against terrorist elements in eastern Jerusalem and examining the option of expelling family members of terrorists – a problematic legal procedure – should be on the table.
In Gaza, the situation is more clear-cut. Some 17,000 Gazans head out to work in Israel every day, the two million-strong Gazan population is behind a border and security barrier, the Iron Dome air defense batteries protect Israel from rocket fire and the threat that Hamas will pay a heavy price if it decides to escalate the situation all act as a deterrent.
Israel must decide on an offensive policy against those leading terrorist incitement from Hamas, PIJ and others, whether they live in Gaza or Lebanon. This will certainly lead to escalation but they are necessary in order to foil and deter terrorism.
The writer, an IDF major general (res.), is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. He concluded his extensive career as the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) in 2014.