JERUSALEM—Palestinian terror has declined this year in Israel and the West Bank but not for lack of trying.
Israel’s Shin Bet (Security Service) has reported foiling 111 planned terror attacks in the first seven months of the year through pre-emptive arrests. In addition, the security services of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank have made a substantial number of similar arrests, although it has issued no figures.
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Israel’s security forces have prevented 17 suicide attacks since the beginning of the year, according to statistics released by the Shin Bet. It also foiled eight plots to kidnap Israelis in order to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners. The PA likewise prevented an unknown number of suicide bombings and kidnappings.
Israeli officials say that there is close cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces despite ongoing tension at the political level. The PA is interested in suppressing terror activity because it undermines its own authority in the West Bank and promotes the interests of Hamas, which competes with the Fatah-led PA for Palestinian leadership.
Three Israelis have been killed in terror attacks so far this year compared to 15 killed in 1914. More than a score have been wounded in knife attacks and in a relatively new kind of attack—vehicles driven deliberately into groups of Israelis waiting at bus stops or standing at roadsides. The road that divides Jerusalem between east and west has been the site of several such attacks.
In the most recent incident, an Israeli who stopped at a gas station on the West Bank last week was stabbed in the back by an assailant who was shot dead by soldiers on duty nearby. The Israeli’s condition was described as light. A few days before, three Israeli soldiers walking along a West Bank road were struck by a car that had turned around in order to hit them. Another soldier shot the driver who was seriously injured when his car turned over.
Israeli officials say the type of terror prevailing today is very different from the terror that marked the second intifada, which began in 2000. (The first intifada, or uprising, broke out in 1987 and was less violent than the second.) The second intifada was an uprising directed by hierarchical organizations—not just Hamas—operating in quasi-military fashion. A central feature was suicide bombings on buses in the heart of Israel. More than 1,000 Israelis were killed before the Israeli security services, operating in tandem with the army, suppressed the uprising in what was virtually a house-to-house campaign in the West Bank. Some 3,000 Palestinians were killed and thousands imprisoned before the violence ended, by some reckonings in 2005. The memory of those difficult days is what has dissuaded many Palestinians since from welcoming another uprising despite their hostility to Israel.
The current acts of terror are described by Israeli officials as being in good part "lone wolf" attacks—that is, acts by individuals, often on the spur of the moment, to seek revenge for personal or nationalistic reasons by attacking chance targets. Where the leaders of the Second Intifada made a point at striking targets inside Israel, the great bulk of attacks in recent years are in the West Bank. The targets are either settlers, soldiers or residents of Israel who happen to be visiting. A fire bomb tossed last month by Israeli extremists into a house in a Palestinian village, killing an infant and its father and seriously injuring two other members of the family, was followed by a spate of revenge attacks in the West Bank.
Although Hamas is said by the Shin Bet to be responsible for 55 percent of the planned attacks that were foiled, Hamas cells are generally small and consist of persons from the same village who know each other well. During the Second Intifada, Hamas was a much more structured and complex organization, which also made it easier for the Israeli security service to penetrate them.