Are We Experiencing a New Intifada?
There is a reason that the latest Palestinian terror wave in Israel has coincided with Ramadan: for terrorists and radicals, the Muslim holy month is an occasion for religious fervor, and can serve as motivation for launching attacks.
The current wave of terror has been characterized by the current generation of Palestinian assailants: young, acting alone or in small cells, lacking clear organizational affiliation, and often working independently.
From a broader perspective, it appears to be occurring as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict shifts to the margins after decades in which it topped the priorities and captured the attention of the Arab regional system. This is a direct result of the process in which Israel and the moderate Arab camp are growing closer, as expressed by normalization agreements signed between Israel and Arab Gulf states — the UAE and Bahrain — and Morocco, and by the military-security cooperation that is being forged with Sudan.
Another feature of this wave of terror is Arab-Israeli operatives subscribing to the ideology of ISIS. This was the case in attacks in Beersheba and Hadera in recent weeks. The involvement of attackers subscribing to this ideology exposed a basic weakness in the detection capability of Israel’s security forces, which rely on Shin Bet intelligence monitoring. The attacks have also shined a fresh spotlight on the ideology of ISIS, which, unlike Hamas, strives to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate here and now.
Hamas, in contrast, a Muslim Brotherhood branch that rules Gaza, strives in the first stage of its plan to set up a Palestinian Islamic state on the ruins of Israel, and only in the future to create the conditions for an Islamic caliphate.
The terrorist attack in Tel Aviv earlier this month is unusual and deserves special attention for another reason. It was carried out by the son of a senior Palestinian Authority (PA) security officer, whose organization holds coordination meetings with Israeli counterparts, and works with Israel to foil attacks.
Yet the terrorists’ father praised the atrocity committed by his son, telling crowds gathered outside of his Jenin home, “You will see the victory, with Allah’s help, in the coming weeks and months. And your eyes will enjoy the change. You will win freedom and will win with Allah’s help and liberate Al Aqsa’s Mosque.”
The IDF and Shin Bet have focused on Jenin and the town’s refugee camp in a series of counter-terror operations. Search and arrest operations have been taking place daily, and have sparked exchanges of fire with Palestinian gunmen.
Dozens of Palestinians have been arrested on suspicion of terror activities in Jenin and its environment, as well as other areas across the West Bank.
Further fueling the flames has been ongoing incitement on social media, as well as on Palestinian television and radio. These messages express hostility and hatred to Israel in a way that can increase motivation to attack.
At the same time, incitement is surging against the security coordination between Israel and PA, not only among left-wing Palestinian terror organizations or Hamas, but also within Fatah — the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority.
And yet, despite the above, the Gaza Strip has maintained almost absolute quiet for the past year. This derives first and foremost from a decision taken by the Hamas leadership to avoid border fence disturbances or attacks on Israeli targets with ballistic rockets or mortars. This is a direct result of clear priorities set by Gaza’s rulers, who are focusing on the recovery and development of Hamas’ military-operational capabilities after the severe blows they absorbed in Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021.
Hamas is also advancing the rehabilitation of civilian infrastructure, with a focus on building roads and setting up new residential neighborhoods in northern Gaza. In addition, the Hamas regime in Gaza is even using force to stop Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) from firing rockets at Israel.
But Hamas’ reluctance to launch new attacks against Israel from Gaza does not stop senior Hamas members from calling for terrorist attacks against Israel, and encouraging attackers to pounce in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
According to media reports, Israel sent warning messages to Hamas via the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, telling the group to restrain itself or face severe consequences. To further consolidate the security calm in Gaza, Israel is continuing to allow 12,000 Gazan workers into Israel for daily work trips. In addition, Israel is weighing the option of increasing the Gaza work permit quota to 20,000.
At the same time, any significant deterioration in clashes, particularly in the Temple Mount and Jerusalem during the sensitive period of Ramadan would increase the chances of a scenario in which Hamas joins in the clashes.
That would see a renewal of violence along the Gaza-Israel border fence, rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities and also cities beyond, and infiltration attempts from Gaza.
Despite the above, it is possible to cautiously conclude that at the current time, there is no sign that the region is on the brink of a new intifada. Still, further lone-wolf attacks and IDF counter-measures can increase the violent dynamics to the point where the Palestinian side takes on an organized and planned dimension. Under these circumstances, the Israeli defense establishment will do well if it continues in its efforts to prevent collective punishment of Palestinians, thereby avoiding the risk of spreading the unrest and radicalizing Palestinian civilians. At the same time, the military must also work rapidly to block the gaps in the security fence, and keep Israel safe.
Col. David Hacham (IDF, Ret.) is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. He served for 30 years in various intelligence and political-strategic positions in the IDF, including eight years in the Gaza Strip as advisor for Arab affairs to successive commanders of the Southern Command and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.