The past few weeks have seen a spike in deadly, unorganized PA Arab terrorist attacks, and Israeli security forces are now preparing for a further rise in tensions in the coming weeks.
The attackers appear to be acting on their own, fitting into one of two broad categories of terrorism. The first category involves organized attempted bombing and shooting attacks on Israeli targets, which are planned out and activated by major armed terror entities, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Most of these plots are broken up in time by Israel’s ongoing intelligence and counter-terrorism operations. The second kind—lone-wolf attacks—are more difficult to prevent, but here, too, security forces have been using new technological tools to close the gap. Israel has become increasingly successful in preempting such incidents.
A security source told JNS that since the beginning of 2018, no fewer than 200 lone attackers were identified and stopped before they could strike. The Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency is behind these efforts.
The security source revealed that in 2017, as many as 1,300 lone attackers were identified and stopped before they could strike.
These numbers give a sense of the scope of the threat, but they also indicate the advances made by security forces in their ability to utilize technology to track down lone attackers in time.
Now, however, tensions are rising.
According to security assessments in Israel, this time of year—ahead of Passover, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), the Palestinian Nakba (defined as “catastrophe,” a day of mourning over the events of 1948)—tends to be related to a rise in violence.
Apprehension will likely grow even more ahead of the intention by the Trump administration to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, which could spur Palestinian unrest and attacks, according to the security assessments.
It is precisely such events that can inject new motivation for lone attackers.
“A prominent characteristic in the terrorism of lone attackers has been their personal [problematic] backgrounds and motivation, and they take a spontaneous decision without prior planning,” the security source said. “In many cases, these are copy-cat attackers, influenced by an atmosphere, and they have not been sent by organized elements,” the source added.
According to the Shin Bet’s data, February saw an increase in attacks—149 incidents, of which 121 were fire-bombings—compared to 118 in January. In February, nine Israelis were injured and one killed. To date, three Israelis have been killed in unorganized terror incidents this month.
According to a report released recently by the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, lone-wolf attacks are becoming more deadly.
The reason is “primarily a result of an increase in the operational capabilities of the lone-wolf terrorists,” said the report. Those who have carried out the attacks have sometimes “abandoned the element of spontaneity that characterized the wave of popular terrorism in its first year . The age of some of the terrorists carrying out lethal attacks seems to be higher than in the past.”
Unlike in the past, the center noted, lone attackers have begun surveillancing routine activities of Israeli security forces on the ground—searching for weak spots before launching vehicle and stabbing attacks.
In addition, some have been able to flee the scene of the attack and hide from Israeli security forces for a number of weeks, which is a relatively new development.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Reuven Erlich, a former Intelligence Corps analyst for the Israel Defense Forces and the head of the Amit center, told JNS that the increased lethality of the attacks is “not coincidental.” He noted that eight attacks have occurred since the start of the year, half of them deadly.
“We think they are less spontaneous. These are less spur-of-the moment decisions to attack soldiers. More thought has gone into it,” he said. “We’re also seeing that they’re managing to hide out for longer. In at least two cases, it took weeks before security forces were able to capture them. There is a process here, it seems, of the lone attackers becoming more professional.”
Asked if the large, armed organizations (Hamas, PIJ, etc. ) are playing a role in this trend, Erlich answered in the affirmative, pointing to their incitement, their depiction of the attackers as heroes and incessant calls to conduct more attacks, even if the terror groups did not directly activate or order the attacks.
In addition, he said, the Palestinian Authority “pays the terrorists money.”
Said Erlich: “The [armed] organizations and the Palestinian Authority create the atmosphere for these attacks.”