Past year, from October 2015 to October 2016, can be considered as one of the most important and decisive times of the Palestinian cause. The fast speed of the regional developments and intricacy of the policies and interests of the regional and international actors in Syria and Iraq have caused the attention and focus to divert from the Palestinian issue, and thus the Palestinian field and strategic changes be ignored.
Palestine over the past year sacrificed nearly 250 of its youths from the post-Oslo Accords generation for the third anti-Israeli intifada (or uprising). The third intifada sparked since October 2015 with the slogan of protecting the Al-Aqsa Mosque and moving to block the Israeli plan that aims at breaking the first Islamic qibla site into Jewish and Palestinian parts. The third intifada, as many analysts suggest, was the result of the 51-Day Israeli war on Gaza and ongoing failures of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, in defending the Palestinian rights through negotiations.
Continuation of the third intifada, putting forward compromising peace solutions by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and also France, the Palestinian municipal elections and their side disputes, emergence of possibility of Tel Aviv launching fourth war against the besieged Gaza, picking Danny Danon, the Israeli envoy to the UN, as the chairman of the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, change of the Israeli war minister, growing Israeli-Arab closeness, Washington’s approval of new aid package to Tel Aviv, shrink in the Palestinian Authority’s security potentials, presence of Hezbollah and other wings of Axis of Resistance close to the occupied Golan Heights, and threats by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals to sink his cabinet are part of developments that influenced the Israeli regime’s policy in the past year. An overview of the above-mentioned factors and investigation of their significance can make it clear that Tel Aviv is altering its policies, particularly in the military and security aspects.
But among all of the developments, what appears to be leaving the greatest effect on the Israeli regime is the anti-Israeli “esteshhadi” (or suicide) attacks in West Bank and the occupied territories of 1948 and 1967. These attacks, just unlike many other controlled operations, are out of control of the regional and international actors, and they even affected these actors. This piece aims at examining the nature of these anti-Israeli operations, their impacts on the Israeli regime’s security views, and the security behavior of Netanyahu’s cabinet in dealing with them.
1. Esteshhadi attacks by the “pseudo-lone wolves”
The “lone wolf” is a term that gained widespread use and focus in Europe and the US following terrorist attacks that hit Paris and Orlando last year. The lone wolf strategy is a pathway taken by the popular movements as well as the terrorist groups. Actually, it is a personal action carried out by a single person without contacts and coordination with any group or organization. Receiving no support from any group, the attacker conducts the assault in defense of a specific group, movement, or ideology and belief.
It is noteworthy that although the term “lone wolf” is associated with the terrorist groups, applying it to the Palestinian esteshhadi operations should not mean branding them as terror attacks as they are carried out in defense of the Palestinian rights and occupied land.
Having no detectable links to any group and carrying out their attacks personally, the lone wolves are really hard to recognize by the security forces. The lone wolf term has a relatively long record of use, several times used by different sides. It dates back to the 1990s, when it was used to brand attackers conducting terror operations. This term means that without a central command of a group designing a sabotage or armed attack, a person solely launches the attack in the nearest possible place.
The term was used first in the beginning of the third millennium. Abu Musab al-Suri, the leader of Al-Talia militant group was one of the theorists of this mode of attacks. He called for such attacks to be conducted, saying that because of hard work of supervision of the personal circles by the security institutions such fashion of attacks was necessary for terror acts. He argued that a personally conducted attack and arresting the attacker do not affect the whole organization.
Fahmi Huwaidi, the prominent Egyptian writer, believes that the lone wolves phenomena carries one message for the leaders and rulers: increased oppression and repression shifts the men into time bombs that any time are poised to go off. In this way, revenge does not take any plotting or a terrorist group to design the operation scheme because only a single oppressed person finds motivation for revenge and has no need for provocation, training, and funding, according to Huwaidi.
In a note following an esteshhadi operation in Tel Aviv that was later dubbed “Ramadan Operation”, Fahmi Huwaidi used the lone wolf term for the Palestinian anti-Israeli attacks as part of the third intifada. The Ramadan Operation was carried out in a restaurant in the heart of Tel Aviv by Hamad Mokhamra and Khaled Mokhamra from Yatta town in Al-Khalil (Hebron), killing 4 Israelis.
Huwaidi presents a chain of evidences like the attackers’ disconnection with the Palestinian groups, having no criminal records in the Israeli security institutions, and using hand-made guns to conclude that the lone wolf model is being inaugurated and developed in Palestine. The Ramadan Operation and the other operations to come pushed the Israeli security officials to raise concerns about rise of lone wolf phenomena, and demand a change in the regime’s security behavior as these type of operations began to pose threats at any time to the Israelis.
2. Change of Israeli security approach
The Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Gadi Eizenkot was first among other Israeli top military officials to highlight the necessity for changing Tel Aviv’s security behaviors in the face of the Palestinians and the personally conducted attacks. He, in a note, maintained that after 10 years of relative peace in West Bank Tel Aviv saw new attacks that were essentially different from their predecessors in the past conflicts and intifadas.
Eizenkot saw the distinction in the young Palestinians who without any bonds to any movement and without early warning conduct the attacks, branding the new mode of attacks the most serious short-term challenge Tel Aviv is facing.
As he goes on, Eizenkot notes that the Israeli army and intelligence services bring under their focus two cases: first, the decision-making and command centers like Hamas, Fattah, and Islamic Jihad, and second the strength and potentials of the adversary. Comparing the third intifada to the second one, Eizenkot suggested that the Israeli army used a tactic of preemptive thwarting during the second intifada. This tactic took advantage of the military’s intelligence supremacy and the power to repel attacks by the Palestinians. He, however, said that countering the new wave of attacks is a difficult job because in addition to absence of the important factor of early alerting, the attackers act out of control of the decision-making centers. He concluded that the two Palestinian factors that the Israeli intelligence services focus on now play no role in endangering the security of the Israeli regime.
Furthermore, Kubi Michael, a researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in a piece titled The Palestinian Terrorism of the Past Year: Causes and Policy Recommendations has expressed the need for the Israeli regime to review its security behavior. He in his piece touches upon the issue of the “lone wolves”, and tries to suggest ways for their temporary and long-term control.
Kubi enumerates a couple of factors as being the major motivations behind the attacks by the Palestinian youths. Expanded ISIS terrorist group’s operations and the Palestinian copying of them, flourish of the social networks sites, effects of democracy and freedom discourse on the Palestinians, deteriorated Palestinian economic conditions, disappointment about the future, and the Palestinian leaders’ failure to address the youths’ demands all work as drives for the anti-Israeli operations.
This researcher adds that killing the attackers or even Palestinians who are suspected of being potential attackers by the Israeli security forces have intensified a will for revenge taking and disappointment among the Palestinian young generation.
Kubi Michael claims that the current conditions do not necessarily reflect nationalist or religious sentiments and in some cases come as a result of personal and social frustration. This comes while the religious drives and also desecration of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israelis and raising the plan to split the holy site are the key drives igniting the third intifada. Actually, repression and occupation are the key reasons standing behind the current situation.
Kubi Michael believes that Tel Aviv cannot eliminate the above-mentioned motivations for the attacks in a short term. So, he suggests some short-term and long-term solutions. The short-term solutions include cutting down the tensions with the Palestinians, refraining from collective punishment of the Palestinians, strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and supporting the West Bank economy. Michael also has suggestions to rid Tel Aviv of the attacks in the long term: reviving the peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, redefining the Area C in West Bank to provide its security, and helping development of the West Bank’s economic infrastructures.
Area C is a region of West Bank and a majority of settlements have been built in or around it and is administered by the Israeli regime. Many analysts and Israeli officials suggest that Area C needs to be annexed to the other occupied lands to guarantee continuation of settlement building and holding the Israelis in West Bank.
The Israeli collective punishment include Al-Khalil (Hebron) encirclement, expelling the Palestinian workers from the occupied lands, and other works of this kind that trigger a Palestinian desire for revenge.