Has a third intifada begun?

Regardless of what we call it, this uprising has been laying patiently at our doorstep for two years now, just waiting for a lit fuse to ignite it.

Stone-throwing Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Sur Baher, a village in the suburbs of east Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Stone-throwing Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Sur Baher, a village in the suburbs of east Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The wave of terrorism that has been plaguing Israel for the past few weeks, which reached a peak this week, should be no surprise to any of us. We are experiencing a reality that we walked straight into with our eyes open wide. This situation has been brewing for over two years now, and the volume of nationalistically related violent incidents has been steadily increasing. The number of firebombs being thrown at moving cars and terrorists ramming their cars into people waiting at bus stops is on the rise. Lately, many people have begun wondering whether a third intifada has officially begun.
Regardless of what we call it, this uprising has been laying patiently at our doorstep for two years now, just waiting for a lit fuse to ignite it.
Two main factors are responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. The first is the lack of any political initiative from either side.
The government has not initiated any actions over the last few years, nor has it agreed to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority. However, the Palestinian Authority – under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas – has also not initiated any political moves, and instead has invested great amounts of energy into inciting Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to attack Israelis. Abbas has repeatedly espoused the false claim that the government is conspiring to take over the Temple Mount and spewed other popular (and false) pronouncements as he prepares to approach The Hague with claims against Israel.
The second factor is the continuous decline in Israeli deterrence.
Palestinians who carry out attacks are no longer scared of the security forces. Regardless of whether they’ve been meticulously planning the details of an attack for months, or just woke up that morning and decided to assault a policeman with a kitchen knife, the result is the same.
In the last few years, Israel has not carried out even one offensive move against terrorist organizations, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah, or other Islamist organizations in Israel.
Unfortunately, all Israeli actions are proportionate and are only carried out in retaliation for an attack.
This is how the security forces have conducted themselves during the numerous operations carried out against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and against Palestinian terrorism in the territories. The Palestinians know us well; they know exactly what to expect from us. They know that Israel always responds with measured and calculated reprisals and never more.
Most Palestinians are not reading the Hebrew papers that quote the prime minister saying, “We will take harsh measures against those who dare to attack us.” And even if they did read our papers, they would know these are empty words. If we really want to put a stop to the terrorism, we must follow the following guidelines: 1. We need to gather intelligence, carry out investigations, make arrests, and implement punishments.
Only if we follow these steps stringently will we succeed in rooting out the terrorists.
2. To create deterrence, we must take the initiative instead of waiting until we are attacked. In addition, when we do retaliate, we must act with much greater force to show the enemy that we are serious.
3. We must initiate and execute political talks with the Palestinian Authority with international support (even if we believe that the other side is not going to cooperate), instead of refusing to meet with the opposing side every time someone approaches us.
Both sides are continuing to fan the flames of unrest. The extreme Right, on the one hand, is making an effort to instigate provocations on the Temple Mount, to renew construction in the settlements, and to make extreme declarations about their vision of a Greater Israel. Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, are engaging in constant incitement against Israel at every opportunity, and spreading lies about Israeli intentions to alter the status quo of the Temple Mount.
Arab MKs are adding fuel to the fire and the flames keep getting higher and higher.
As a result, the pressure that has been building up on both sides has finally exploded. The boiling pot is finally spilling over the edges as individual Palestinians have begun carrying out lone-wolf attacks.
These types of terrorist attacks cannot be detected ahead of time, as there is no planning or strategy behind them. As a result, the security forces have no way of preventing them. In these cases, intelligence gathering does not give us an advantage. These acts are an accumulation of Palestinians’ frustration bursting at the seams and the incitement being carried out by the Palestinian Authority is simply fanning the flames. When lone-wolf attacks succeed, other individuals think to themselves, “Hey, I can do that too.”
We can, however, still put a stop to the current cycle of violence before it gets completely out of control; before one huge, dramatic event takes place that would be a game changer. If both sides take immediate preemptive action, there is still a chance to restore calm.
I do not believe that under the current circumstances we can achieve a peace agreement in the near future, but the two sides can certainly reach an understanding that would bring about an end to the current crisis.
To achieve this, our leaders must demonstrate courage and determination, and be forthright about our vision as a nation.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.