JERUSALEM – The shooting death of an Israeli student on the West Bank last weekend as he visited an ancient spring is the latest in what Israeli authorities have come to call "lone wolf" attacks.
These are spontaneous attacks by individual terrorists who are not part of an organized group but strike when they see an opportunity and have access to a weapon. In recent months, the weapon of choice has been the attacker’s vehicle. On a number of occasions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinian drivers have swerved off the road and driven into Israelis waiting at bus stops. At least four persons have been killed in these attacks and about a dozen injured. Twice the drivers leapt out after the crash with a metal bar or a meat cleaver and were shot by police.
Other attacks have been carried out by individuals wielding knives. Three months ago, Mayor Nir Barkat of Jerusalem and his bodyguard leapt from their car to apprehend an 18-year-old Palestinian near City Hall after he had stabbed and injured a passerby.
However, there has been no resurgence of the suicide attacks and bus bombings that marked the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, more than a decade ago when more than 1,000 Israelis were killed. A major reason, Israeli officials say, is the cooperation prevailing in recent years on the West Bank between the security forces of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces, particularly the Shin Bet, or internal security agency. The two security forces have a mutual enemy in Hamas, which was behind most of the violence of the intifada and is a rival to Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement for political hegemony in the Palestinian camp. Although Hamas spokesmen in Gaza often issue statements praising these lone wolf attacks, Israeli officials say the organization had no hand in the planning.
Hamas enjoys a significant measure of public support in the Palestinian Authority but persistent raids by both Israeli and Palestinian security forces have succeeded in breaking up cells before they are fully organized. The military wing of the organization has been left virtually leaderless on the West Bank, say Israeli officials.
"Only a few of its remaining members who are at large know how to assemble the explosive vests that killed so many Israelis," writes security correspondent Amos Harel in Ha’aretz. One Hamas cell that did manage to organize staged the most serious terrorist act in recent years when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenaged hitchhikers on the West Bank a year ago. Here too, however, the kidnappers did not share their plans with, or receive directions from, the Hamas leadership in Gaza, say officials.
In last weekend’s incident, two Israelis visiting a spring near an Arab village on the West Bank were flagged down in their car by a young Palestinian who chatted briefly with them before pulling a gun from a plastic bag and shooting the driver dead and wounding his passenger.
The fact that attacks in recent years are confined to lone wolves means that the number of victims has been relatively small. But lone wolf attacks are harder to intercept than those carried out by organized terrorist cells. Security agencies have begun to monitor social networks on the West Bank for hints of possible violence.