Groping in the dark

The second surprise was the large scope of this wave of terrorism, which has hit us on both sides of the Green Line and has already taken a relatively large number of casualties.

Intifada hashtag (photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
Intifada hashtag
(photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
Here in Israel, we were surprised twice this past week. Lately, in the past few weeks, there has been a slow but steady decline in the number of terrorist attacks. It seemed as if the wave was dying down, especially for those of us who believed that this was just a wave. But the relative quiet was broken this week, and we must finally admit that we are in the midst of a full-fledged intifada. According to our minister of transportation, it’s an “ISIS intifada.” So now we even have a new name.
The second surprise was the large scope of this wave of terrorism, which has hit us on both sides of the Green Line and has already taken a relatively large number of casualties. It’s happening once again.
But this is not just a matter of semantics. The government just hasn’t found a solution to this new form of terrorism. This is the sad truth. If we closely analyze the attacks of the third intifada, we will see that it’s different from its predecessors. The first intifada was an uprising of the people and the level of violence was very low. The second intifada was especially cruel and took the lives of thousands of innocent people. It also forced Israel to return to take control over parts of Judea and Samaria, which went against the Oslo Accords.
The current intifada is based on a long string of small, primitive attacks: knifings, car-rammings, and here and there an occasional use of firearms. This is producing far fewer casualties than the previous intifadas, but Israel is having an even harder time preventing these low-intensity attacks. Ostensibly, even though these attacks result in fewer and lighter casual - ties, the effect has been greater.
Why is this, you might wonder? Because of social networking. This intifada is a social networking nightmare. The attackers are taking advantage of our highly developed connectedness. The major terrorist organizations, including ISIS, have adapted themselves incredibly quickly to this new reality.
We are all familiar with this phenomenon. Tom Friedman created the most brilliant definition that he used in his award-winning book, The World is Flat . Of course, even though everyone might agree that physically the world is round, our lives have been completely flattened out, and the social networks have covered every square inch of it multiple times. Without noticing it, we have all joined one social network or another. We are all active participants in this new world order, whether we want to be or not. These networks have changed our world from the bottom up and the current globalization relies upon and even feeds off of them.
The IDF came out of the second intifada victorious. Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 shocked the Palestinians and hit their terrorist infrastructure hard, but it took another four full years until we had successfully eradicated the terrorist cells, arrested its leaders, located the weapon caches and deterred a new generation of terrorists.
But the seeds of the next generation of terrorists germinated during these years, and in the absence of leadership, and with a network connecting the various terrorist cells, this terrorism infiltrated the public arena and the social networks. The teen - age girls and boys who’ve recently taken to the street with knives and scissors, and the women and men who’ve used their cars as weapons, didn’t know one another personally, and are not coordinating their attacks, but they are bolstering one another through their connection on social net - works.
The IDF, the Shin Bet, the Border Police and the Israel Police are all helpless. They are groping in the dark. Upping our deployments has not been helpful. Exist - ing methods for prevention are no longer effective. They are seeking out the terrorists, but they cannot seem to locate them. The security personnel are all just as professional, determined and skilled as ever – in fact, they are among the best in the world – but they are groping in the dark.
And worse yet, all of these allegations that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for inciting these terrorist attacks, though some of them are legitimate, cannot be properly addressed. Even if we were able to close down the traditional media – i.e. radio and television – there still wouldn’t be a way to prevent people from expressing themselves on social networks. All of our attempts to control them have failed. We’ve reached out to Google and Facebook, but these companies do not work for the government and they are not willing to restrict their networks just because terrorist organizations are abusing them.
And they’ve taken it a step further: Terrorism is no longer on its own. After the traditional media have dealt with it so superficially on all the global TV networks (this is how it attracts young people), it’s now being used to fuel an international campaign against Israel. This is an integrated campaign that combines political, economic, legal and academic aspects, as well as public relations. It’s also built on global networks and fuels itself through physical violence. Instead of showing ostentatious explosions, they show the limited knife attacks and car-ramming on a grand scale in order to fuel the flames.
Israel did not identify in time the connection between these new circles and their new angle. Israel has directed all of its efforts and resources toward preventing and containing the terrorism, and has unfortunately been ignoring the war for international public opinion, which we are losing badly. Everything has gotten pretty out of control. The Israeli leadership must completely rethink its strategy in its war on terror.
As of now, we are not capable of putting out these virtual fires.
Although it is not a simple task, the government must find a way to initiate measures with which to counter terrorism on social networks. It looks like Israel will once again be the pioneer in fighting this new form of terrorism, just as we have been in the past.
We must carry out targeted actions that deter the young people among our enemies, and prove to them that they are losing the war. We have a lot of work ahead of us in the battle for the hearts. We are embarking on a new chapter.
The writer is a member of Knesset from the Zionist Union, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and has a doctorate in political science and communications.
Translated by Hannah Hochner