The Israeli casualty count from terror attacks tragically kept climbing during the month of August. From the multi-stage attack on the way to Eilat, to the massive rocket barrage that followed, to this week’s stabbing attack in Tel Aviv, Israel has had one of its most terrifying months in years. And the threat isn’t over.
The IDF this week said they were reinforcing their presence in the south of the country and the Israeli police are also joining that security effort “due to a number of concrete alerts,” according to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld, speaking with The Mideast Update by phone on Wednesday evening Israel time, said they are working to “prevent those attacks from taking place.”
He said temporarily heightened security had been in effect for Jerusalem for a brief period this week as well, but was back to normal as of the time of the interview.
Yet even if the current southern threat dissipates, the upcoming expected bid by the Palestinians at the United Nations could bring it’s own dangers and difficulties for Israeli security. While the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank has repeatedly said they don’t want violence, increased tensions and tempers bring risk of Palestinian violence with them.
“Preparations are being made on a ground level, our different units are training and coordinating in order to be ready to deal with the possibility of small scale incidents, as well as larger scale incidents, but there’s still time until [a Palestinian UN bid in] September,” said Rosenfeld.
“Obviously we’re taking seriously that possibility, but once again, once the political decisions will be made [including those by the Israeli leadership], and that will move to a ground level and other decisions will be made by the leading officers, both of the Israeli police as well as other security organizations.”
In addition to any security risks which could arise in connection to the UN bid, the Jewish High Holy Days also begin at the end of September. Rosenfeld said security is heighted regularly for the holidays.
Expert: Potential for More Attacks
Expert on terrorism Yoram Schweitzer did not think that the well-organized Eilat attack, which killed multiple Israelis and wounded dozens, was directly connected to the upcoming UN bid.
He felt it was part of the effort by Salafist Muslim extremists and others to strike Israel, while also measuring how much space they have from the Gaza ruling-Hamas. The leading Hamas party has tried at times to keep things calmer in Gaza, but Schweitzer said the Eilat attack is also connected to a “Hamas interest to keep the border hot, without being involved directly.”
Speaking with The Mideast Update by phone following the stabbing attack in Tel Aviv earlier this week, Schweitzer does feel that attacks could yet come ahead of the UN bid, particularly from rejectionist groups such as the terror organization Islamic Jihad. They are not supporting the Palestinian UN initiative, despite the dangers the UN effort poses to the peace process and to Israel.
“Even if they declared that they wouldn’t do anything, but I think on the ground they would try to prove that the violent way is the only way to deal with the Israelis, that is my assumption,” said Schweitzer, director of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). “…I suppose that September will definitely motivate those who oppose this step among the Palestinian terrorist organizations.”
Yet barring a loss of control by the Palestinian Authority of the UN situation, Schweitzer doesn’t expect the PA to join a new onslaught of united Palestinian terror like the their elements did in the Second Intifada.
Schweitzer said that the Palestinians suffered a “boomerang effect” as a result of the Second Intifada. If they want political support for the UN bid, the PA won’t join another terror wave due to the risk to their reputation.
Even Hamas, which carried out multiple attacks on Israel just this year, isn’t keen for now to launch a major attack from the West Bank on Israel. Schweitzer said they want international support in still-isolated Gaza, and Hamas also doesn’t want to be seen as the reason for a UN bid failing.
“Unless the internal strife within Hamas [takes hold], meaning the intention of the military wing to set the stage with fire, then I think at the first stage they will not try to operate against the Israelis or against this [UN] trend in an overt way,” said Schweitzer. “Covertly maybe, because there is also internal strife within Hamas concerning what to do about it [the UN bid].”
Later on however, Hamas could also join attacks. Regardless, Schweitzer said his expectations of Hamas caution apply to West Bank-linked terrorism, while the situation in Gaza has its own dynamic with Israel. Hamas may not increase operations from there, but they can’t be counted on to block attacks against the Israeli south either.
The “Lone Wolf” Threat
Beyond the major organizational attacks, Israel also faces threats from “lone wolf” terrorism, where an individual without the orders of a group carries out an attack. Rosenfeld said the attack in Tel Aviv, where a man drove into police officers with a stolen taxi and then began stabbing passersby, was an individualized act of terror.
“We arrested one suspect who was behind that attack. We know that he planned it ahead of time and managed to carry it out, although our officers responded quickly and apprehended the suspect,” said Rosenfeld. “But from what we know until now, as part of the ongoing investigation, he acted entirely alone.” Rosenfeld said the Tel Aviv attack was not connected to the Eilat assault.
Israel is not the only nation in the world to face such individuals—the US and Sweden are some others—and this isn’t the first incident that took on characteristics of the “lone wolf” attack. The bulldozer attacks in Jerusalem were similar to the Tel Aviv vehicular assault and stabbing.
With tension still in the air, the Israeli police is planning to be ready for the weeks ahead.
“In general we’re looking ahead to a period which is both important in terms of the Jewish festivals, [and] could possibly be sensitive in terms of the UN [Palestinian bid],” said Rosenfeld.
“And the Israeli police are in general making both enough preparations and assessing the situation in a relatively serious way, so that we’ll be fully prepared, both on one scale to deal with small-scale incidences, and at the same time make sure that the period of September and the festivals will pass with as little incidences as possible.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 1, 2011)