Explosive chain of events could lead to new wave of terrorism
Analysis: The Temple Mount crisis and the deadly terror attack in Halamish seem like the beginning of another escalation, which defense officials believe is turning into a pan-Muslim event. Incitement is growing, and there’s no one to restrain the Palestinian street.
Friday evening’s deadly terror attack at the community of Neveh Tzuf-Halamish, which left three members of one family dead, is “a strategic event which goes way beyond the borders of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. It’s now a pan-Muslim event,” a security source said Saturday morning on the backdrop of the Temple Mount riots.
“Social media is abuzz in a way we haven’t seen in a long time, and that’s a sign of escalation,” the source added. “Another sign is that there’s no active restraining element on the ground at the moment. On the contrary, incitement is growing, especially on the part of Hamas and the Waqf. (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is joining them because he fears for his government.”
His words reflect the “negative trend” detected by the defense establishment on the Palestinian street, which has led to assessments the escalation will continue in two areas: Street riots in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and copycat attacks "inspired" by the murder of three Salomon family members. The police and IDF are flooding the area with forces to handle any riots that may develop and protect the Jewish communities.
As for the investigation of the attack, the main—and infuriating—question is how the hell did the terrorist manage to get through the community’s circumferential fence, like in the attack on the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar in 2011. How is it possible that no one noticed him? And if someone did, why didn’t they dispatch forces to intercept him? Was someone caught off guard?
The “will” the terrorist wrote on Facebook, in which he basically declared his intentions, was written about an hour earlier. The Shin Bet likely failed to detect it on time—a matter of manpower and resources. Now, the agency is responsible for the main intelligence effort, which will also lead the investigation in the village of Kobar, where the terrorist came from.
The results of incitement
The attack was inspired by the Temple Mount events and the religious incitement last week, since metal detectors were placed at the entrance to the site. It wasn’t the first attack in recent days. It was preceded by attacks in Tekoa and in Hebron over the very same reasons. Like in September 2015 and like in the beginning of the second intifada, the moment the Temple Mount turns into a source of tensions, the situation on the Palestinian and Muslim street around the world becomes explosive.
At the moment, there’s a lot of explosive energy across the Muslim world and the Palestinian street, and if a compromise isn’t found, leading to cooperation between all elements in calming down the situation, we’ll likely see further disturbances and attacks in the coming days. The situation was aggravated on Friday with the death of three young Palestinians in Jerusalem neighborhoods far from the Temple Mount. Experience shows casualties in clashes with the security forces maintain and intensify the escalation, especially when it’s religiously-motivated.
The mourners’ tents are a source of incitement too. The father of one of the young men killed in Jerusalem said Friday he hoped many people would follow in his son’s footsteps. These words fall on hearing Palestinian ears.
The Palestinian street was in an explosive state already, even before the Temple Mount crisis—because of the disappointment with US President Donald Trump’s efforts to solve the conflict, because of the inheritance battle for Abbas’ throne, because of the internal Palestinian conflict that has worsened recently, because of provocative measures taken against Gaza and because of the financial and personal desperation felt by many young Palestinians. That was the explosive charge. The detonator was the Temple Mount attack carried out by Israeli Arabs from Umm al-Fahm. The murder of two Druze police officers with weapons smuggled into the mosque blew up the emotional baggage, the frustration and the desperation there.
Admittedly, the murderers got what they wanted. They created an explosive chain of events that blew up in our faces, just like they had planned. The Israeli government wasn’t wise enough to try to reach a compromise with the Jordanians, the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority, which could have neutralized this explosive charge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preferred to preach to Europe's leaders, the Israeli public was busy with the submarine affair, and the foretold explosion at the Temple Mount was left to the police, as if it were a local Jerusalem event, while the Shin Bet and IDF warned that placing metal detectors on the Temple Mount under the current circumstances would be interpreted as a violation of the status quo.
The prime minister did try to neutralize the explosive charge in a statements he released before boarding the plane to Paris, and later in Hungary. Netanyahu said the status quo at the Temple Mount wouldn’t change, but as usual, he failed to take into account the fact the Muslim world and the Palestinian street are flooded with so much hatred and theories about an Israeli conspiracy, that an Israeli leader’s statements are not enough. They see and hear what Israeli extremists publish on social media and believe every world the Hilltop Youth and their supporters have to say.
Netanyahu’s trip to Europe at this tense period reminds me of Yitzhak Rabin at the beginning of the first intifada, in December 1987. The then-defense minister flew to the United States and was in no rush to return, as he believed the riots would calm down.
The police deserve all praise for the smart manner in which they prevented riots after Friday prayers at the Temple Mount. They split the Palestinian worshippers into relatively small groups at the Temple Mount gates, where they were faced by large Israeli forces in the Old City area, and blocked the arrival of tens of thousands of incited Israeli Arabs. It’s quite possible, however, that the police used excessive force and acted too fast against young Palestinians rioting in the distant neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and in the village of Abu Dis.
“The riots broke out in the neighborhoods after the prayer because there were no restrictions on young people there, and they were free to act,” a defense source explained.
In any event, now that blood has been shed on both sides, it will take many efforts, both security efforts on the ground and diplomatic efforts—with the Waqf, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and perhaps with American and Saudi aid too—to calm the situation down through a compromise. If the parties fail to do so, we are at the beginning of a new wave of terrorism.