It is still unclear whether the cell that carried out the shooting had also watched the entrance to Havat Gilad, or whether there had been a separate observation point. In any event, the location of the ambush was likely chosen due to its proximity to the city of Nablus and other villages whose residents include many Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters.
Shortly after the attack, Hamas’ military wing issued a short statement in which it somewhat claimed responsibility. A careful review of the text indicates that this was a murderous operation which Hamas had been planning to execute for a long time, unsuccessfully, likely in a bid to follow through on its threats after US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and after the exposure and destruction of a cross-border Hamas tunnel.
Hamas has in fact been trying to carry out attacks in the West Bank for a long time now—including shootings, abductions and explosive devices in Judea and Samaria—in a bid to continue its terrorist activity against Israel without bringing about an escalation in the Gaza Strip, which could lead to an unrest among the already distressed population and anger the Egyptians. As revealed by Ynet, the attacks are orchestrated by Maher Obeid, likely from Beirut.
As the Shin Bet and Palestinian Authority have largely destroyed Hamas’ operational infrastructure in the West Bank in recent years, the organization is operating and funding local cells in a decentralized manner. Terrorists freed in the Shalit deal lead these operations from from the Gaza Strip and from countries abroad, including Turkey.
The shooting was likely carried out with an expensive standard weapon, which serves as further proof that the murderous ambush was carefully planned. Furthermore, the writing was definitely on the wall. It was outlined by Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee about two weeks ago, when he said the Shin Bet had thwarted 400 major terror attacks in 2017, most of which were planned by Hamas, including 228 shooting attacks (more than half), eight abductions and 13 suicide bombings.
We shouldn’t rule out the possibility, however, that the attack was carried out with the guidance and assistance of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which—as we know—has a score to settle with Israel, and the perpetrators may have very well acted on its behalf.
Terrorists undeterred by death penalty bill
The main question at this time is how do we prevent more deadly attacks in the near future. As we know, every shooting attack is followed by copycat attempts and leads to unrest among the Palestinian population and among West Bank settlers. This is a dangerous situation, and if it isn’t handled in a way that will prevent this unrest, it could lead to a major escalation—the kind we witnessed last year.
On Wednesday morning, the IDF encircled a number of villages near the scene of the attack and set up roadblocks at the entrances and exits to and from the city of Nablus. This indicates that the Shin Bet and the IDF have no clear lead on the perpetrators at the moment. Nevertheless, the forces on the ground have been reinforced and additional forces will likely be deployed to continue the siege and prevent friction and clashes between vengeful settlers and Palestinians in the area.
In any event, the IDF likely hasn’t changed its policy to create a distinction between the terrorists and the uninvolved population, assuming it will prevent additional Palestinians from joining the terror organizations or committing lone-wolf attacks.
The IDF tries to avoid closing West Bank roads to Palestinian traffic, after this measure proved to be useless during the second intifada. But after a murderous attack, there is sometimes no choice but to use this measure to pressure the Palestinian population.
In the long run, the Jewish settlers are completely right to demand the installation of “security measures” in the area—cameras and other measures that could deter murderous terrorist cells in the future. We must honestly admit, however, that these measures can only provide deterrence and are incapable of preventing attacks carried out by determined terrorists who have received instructions and money from experienced groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The more efficient measure in the long run is the one proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman: Preventing payments from the Palestinian Authority to murderers jailed in Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is inflaming the situation both through the Palestinian apparatuses and by paying the terrorists’ families, as well as through his words. Lieberman has suggested deducting the sums from the tax money Israel collects on behalf of the PA, but that is unlikely to deter anyone. Instead, Israel must make sure that these funds do not reach terrorists’ families individually, which can be done with a little effort.
Speaking of deterrence, a death penalty for terrorists is unlikely to serve as a deterring measure under these circumstances. Tuesday evening’s murder proves that there are young Palestinians who are aware of the fact they may get killed before or after carrying out a terror attack—and they are willing to take the risk.
The most efficient measure for thwarting terror attacks was and remains Israel’s intelligence supremacy on the ground, primarily through Shin Bet activities and by giving the IDF operational freedom, along with cooperation between the two bodies and an immediate installment of cameras, fences and other means on the ground that could reduce the likelihood of another terror attack taking place in the West Bank.