This is not mass violence of the kind that the majority of the Palestinian population takes part in and the majority of the Israeli population is exposed to. This is also not a wide geographical deployment of cold violence or murderous terror simultaneously, as it was in the first and second intifada.
Therefore, this is a new phenomenon whose characteristics and motives must be understood in order to form a military or other response. The Shin Bet and IDF can no longer settle for the statement that "this is not a third intifada" and estimate that "a third intifada will not erupt any time soon," but must come up with a response for a type of violence they were likely not familiar with until now.
These appear to be two phenomena which are linked to each other. The most common and widespread one is what Israel refers to as "cold violence" and what the Palestinians refer to as "popular resistance" – in other words, a series of provocations, protests and especially hurling stones and Molotov cocktails, which are directed mainly at settlers.
The second and more serious phenomenon in terms of its results is the one which resulted in the murder of Eden Atias – in other words, acts of murder or attempted murder carried out by individuals driven by nationalistic and emotional motives. The popular uprising or the cold violence are encouraged and inspired by officials in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah institutions, while behind the individual attacks there is no official source or underground movement encouraging them.
In nearly all murder cases, the perpetrators are people who have direct contact with Israelis, or who have relatives in Israeli jails or whose relatives were hurt in IDF operations. They are laborers – licensed workers or illegal residents – who have no problem of accessing the victim, preferably an IDF soldier or a member of the security forces.
Terrorists draw legitimacy
What can we learn from these characteristics? That the individual murderers or terrorists are people with a strong emotional motive stemming from damage caused to them or to their family members, and legitimacy from the Palestinian environment they live in. This legitimacy has increased recently due to repeated statements made by senior PA officials – even Abbas – who use every opportunity to express their anger and frustration over Israel's conduct.
They sometimes blame their anger and frustration on the settlement provocations created by senior Israeli officials while the peace negotiations with the Palestinians are going on. But this is often political rage and frustration drawn not from statements made by senior Palestinian officials, but also by officials in the international arena against Israel. The latter create an atmosphere encouraging the allegedly spontaneous "popular resistance."
This phenomenon was once called "atmosphere attacks." I'm not sure it's the accurate term, but it points to a direction: Legitimacy felt by the terrorist or murderers, which encourages him to vent his anger through an extreme act of taking the life of an Israeli.
To this basic motivation we must add the physical ability of the murderer or terrorist to carry out his plan. The illegal residents and those working in Israel enjoy immediate and easy access to victims who are not prepared to be attacked. The separation fence is easily infiltrated and allows Palestinians lacking a work permit to enter Israeli territories without any delays.
This fact was proven in Afula on Wednesday, like in previous cases. In Hebron, for example, Staff Sergeant Gal Kobi was killed because he was standing close to a place from where a Palestinian sniper was able to fire one accurate bullet into his neck where his vest does not protect him.
The last component contributing to the unbearable lightness of these acts of murder is the erosion in deterrence. Since the end of the Second Intifada, and particularly after the beginning of the turmoil in the Arab world, the Israeli security forces have been careful not to use an overly firm hand against the Palestinian population. That is the reason why they no longer bomb the houses of captured terrorists, and the terrorist releases – whether in return for Gilad Shalit or as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority – also cause angry and frustrated young Palestinians to vent their feelings quickly against Israeli victims, mostly soldiers, without thinking too much about the price they will pay. It's very possible that they estimate that there will soon be a situation or another which will lead to their release from prison. And there is also the imitation element. The fact that several Palestinians have carried out attacks recently provides legitimacy and motivation for the next terrorist.
The 2-channel war
So what can be done to stop this phenomenon? The first channel is the diplomatic one. We must demand that Abbas order his people to condemn these acts much more actively and explain to their people the slippery slope the two people may roll down on as a result of an escalation in the violence.
US Secretary of State John Kerry must think twice before he warns the Israeli government and citizens in public against a third intifada, if the negotiations with the Palestinians fail. The warning is in place and should be said, but not in public. When it is said openly it contributes to the legitimacy given to hot-blooded Palestinians.
The second channel is the physical-military one. As most acts of murder and serious terror attacks are not carried out by cells or networks of organizations, it's very difficult to receive early warnings about acts of murder or nationalistically-motivated attacks, which sometimes were not even really planned by their perpetrators, who perhaps only intended on carrying out a criminal act.
Therefore, the cracks in the separation fence must be closed and the phenomenon of illegal residents must be combated efficiently and more intensely. There is not always intelligence and so security measures must be taken, including in public places, in buses and restaurants, so that their actual presence deters the terrorist.