Since September 2018 there has been an increase in the number of significant terrorist attacks carried out in Judea and Samaria. Five adults were killed in the attacks, and a three-day-old baby, born prematurely because of his mother’s injuries. During 2018 54 terrorist attacks were carried out in Judea and Samaria. About half (26) were carried out in September-December (12 during the same period in 2017). Most of the attacks were stabbing, vehicular and shooting attacks. Three were lethal shooting attacks, which took the lives of four adults and a baby. However, despite the rise since September 2018, there has been annual decline since the peak of popular terrorism, which began in September 2015. Alongside the increase in terrorist attacks, the routine continues of stone- and Molotov cocktail-throwing, and the placing of IEDs in Judea and Samaria.
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria during the past year
Significant terrorist attacks, annual distribution
*134 terrorist attacks were carried out during October-December 2015
Most of the terrorist attacks in the recent wave were carried out as part of the “popular resistance,” i.e., popular terrorism supported by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, the recent attacks were more military-type than popular. Shooting attacks have been carried out by an organized squad (or squads) which killed four adults and a three-day-old baby. In some instances military-grade weapons were used and the shooters were daring. Hamas has been quick to claim responsibility, although not all the shooting attacks were necessarily carried out by Hamas squads.
Hamas systematically incites an increase in the terrorism carried out in Judea and Samaria. At the same time, operatives in Hamas’ military wing invest efforts from the Gaza Strip, Turkey and Lebanon to establish a military infrastructure in Judea and Samaria through recruitment, transferring funds, training, smuggling weapons, etc. However, the effective counterterrorism activities of the Israeli security forces, and to a certain extent of the PA security services, have so far prevented popular terrorism from turning into institutionalized military terrorism, which could lead to a sharp increase in the quantity and quality of the attacks.
Hamas cartoons of expectations for an uprising in Judea and Samaria. Right: “The West Bank” (Palinfo Twitter account, December 15, 2018). Left: “The volcano of the West Bank” (Palinfo Twitter account, December 13, 2018).
The head of the Israel Security Agency reported that 480 significant terrorist attacks were prevented during 2018. Five hundred and ninety “lone wolf” terrorists were located and neutralized and 201 Hamas terrorist squads were exposed. Those are large numbers and indicate the extent of the activity under the radar (Israel Security Agency head Nadav Argaman, Knesset website, November 6, 2018).
Why has there been an increase in terrorist attacks during the past four months?
It is unclear why especially the last four months have witnessed an increase in the number of terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, because the fundamental societal and political picture has not meaningfully changed since the beginning of the year. The Palestinian public continues to show little response to the intensive incitement of Hamas (and other terrorist organizations), and to the calls to join the demonstrations, rallies, riots and clashes with the Israeli security forces. Even the “return marches” in the Gaza Strip and the rounds of escalation, and the relocating of the American embassy to Jerusalem, did not bring the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria out into the streets or cause a significant increase in the number of significant terrorist attacks. What did bring them out was the social security tax law the PA is trying to pass, an internal Palestinian issue which has infuriated the Palestinians.
The following are three possible causes for the rise in terrorist attacks in recent months:
- Imitation: The “success” of one attack inspires others. In the past, one “successful” popular terrorism attack has led to a series of copy-cat attacks (stabbing attacks, for example, where one follows another). The lethal shooting attack in the Barkan industrial zone, where the attacker managed to elude the Israeli security forces for nine weeks, may have been a catalyst. His success in killing Israelis and eluding the search for him led to a wave of sympathy and admiration, and may have also led to imitation attempts.
- Hamas’ successful establishing and handling a terrorist squad (or squads), especially in the region around Ramallah: Since the wave of popular terrorism began Hamas has sought to encourage military-type attacks and turn them into the third intifada. So far Hamas’ efforts have failed because of the effective counterterrorism activities of the Israeli security forces, and to a certain extent, the activities of the Palestinian security services. According to the IDF, Hamas may be affiliated with the operatives who carried out recent attacks, especially the lethal shooting attacks in the Ramallah region. The possible involvement of an established squad (or squads) may increase the quantity and quality of the attacks and the daring of the terrorist operatives, and add a new dimension to popular terrorism supported by Fatah and the PA.
- The persistent weakening of the PA and the decrease in the level of security coordination with Israel: The PA and Fatah are becoming weaker. Behind the scenes is the struggle over the inheritance of the leadership of the PA when Mahmoud Abbas passes away. In addition to its usual difficulties, the PA now has to face a social protest which makes it hard to control what happens in the Palestinian street. In addition, the PA’s ability and motivation to continue security coordination with Israel is on the decline. In recent events the Palestinian public has turned its anger against the PA and its security services, calling them traitors and collaborators. The Palestinian public has accused the PA’s security services of not preventing the Israeli security forces from entering cities in Judea and Samaria, among them Ramallah, or from killing operatives, and of having violently restrained the riots against Israel’s activities.