Palestinians have carried out over one dozen brutal stabbing attacks against Israelis since 1 October, including one which injured a two-year-old baby in Jerusalem. In a particularly horrific assault days prior, a Palestinian gunman opened deadly fire on two Israeli parents, killing them in front of their four children in the West Bank. Since then, a number of knife-wielding Palestinians have continued carrying out a series of indiscriminate attacks across the country while at the same time a wave of intense unrest has swept across east Jerusalem and the West Bank. On 9-10 October, that unrest spread to the Gaza Strip, leading to violent clashes between IDF troops and protesters, a number of who were reportedly Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) members, that left at least nine Palestinians dead, including a 12-year-old, on the border. The situation further escalated when militants fired at least several rockets into Israel, two nights in a row, prompting the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to carry out at least several strikes in the Strip. Reports indicated a strike that targeted a Hamas site caused a nearby building to collapse, killing a pregnant woman and her three-year-old child. In total, at least four Israelis and 26 Palestinians have been killed in a 12-day period; the latter total includes eight assailants who were killed after they carried out an attack.
The eruption of violence is the worst since last summers long, bloody conflict with Hamas that left at least 2,251 Palestinians killed, including militants and civilians, in the Gaza Strip, while another 66 IDF soldiers and seven Israeli civilians were killed. While the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has held since late August 2014, the relative calm gave way to months of tensions over the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex and what reports have indicated were “unsubstantiated rumors” that Israeli forces were restricting Palestinians’ access to the site. Now Israeli leaders are confronted with an extremely difficult type of threat to thwart while unrest continues to erupt.
From a security standpoint, the difficulty of thwarting these lone-wolf style attacks is two-fold; attackers hardly need an entire cell to help orchestrate and execute their plan, thus detecting such plots can prove to be virtually impossible. Secondly, Palestinian militant group leaders can praise the attacks, scoring points on the Palestinian streets, while at the same time finding themselves in a position that allows them to more easily distance themselves from the attacks. Such distance would allow them to subtly signal that they don’t seek broader, direct conflict with Israel. It is worth noting that while Palestinian militant groups have continued to incite violence and exploit the attacks for propaganda purposes, their level of involvement in the planning and execution of the assaults remains unclear. Assessing the precise degree of both Fatah and Hamas’s direct involvement in the recent string of assaults is important as it will help to assess whether this wave of violence is likely to subside in the near term or whether it will develop into Intifada levels of deadliness.
Meanwhile, the ongoing threat of far-right Israeli terrorism has once again surfaced; an Israeli teenager stabbed three Palestinians and a Bedouin in southern Israel’s city of Dimona, in what authorities referred to as a “nationalistic” attack. The brutal assault triggered immediate public condemnation from the government with officials noting they are considering a total ban on the Jewish extremist Lehava organization.
While the death toll rises and calls for martyrdom in the name of the cause continue, the question of how to immediately halt the violence – so that the long-stalled peace process can once again began – has yet to be sufficiently answered. Founder and Director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Professor Boaz Ganor provided a concise overview of the crisis and noted that the only way for the violence to stop is for both Palestinian and Israeli leaders to demonstrate sincere leadership: “Just as the security deterioration began from a position of incitement, discouragement and a lack of political prospects, the solution is to end the incitement, and to get back on the track of productive discussion between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.” Most notably, Ganor offers one concrete solution to quelling tensions at al-Aqsa by involving Jordan and allowing them direct access to monitor the Temple Mount. Ganor writes, “Israel should enable King Abdullah to monitor the upholding of the status quo, both by the Israeli side and by the Palestinian side. That, for example, can be achieved by installing closed-circuit cameras around and in the Temple Mount that will be monitored by Jordan.” This potential solution could result in bringing Israel and Fatah to the table to jumpstart peace talks.
The coming days will prove critical, as every death on either side decreases the likelihood of de-escalation. That rockets have not begun raining down on southern Israeli cities is a major indication Hamas cannot afford nor is seeking a serious escalation at this point. But Hamas must also prove willing and capable of reigning in other militants and prevent them from carrying out rocket launches. That said, domestically, the militant group will continue facing pressure to retaliate for IDF operations in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.
For Hamas, the wounds of last summer have not yet even begun to heal; the Gaza Strip remains in ruin. For Israel, it is unlikely there would be any strategic benefit to conducting a lengthy aerial campaign. But if both the PA and Israel fail to halt the unrest and the stabbing attacks, the violence will continue unabated and both leaders as well as Hamas may all have to confront another broad conflict that none of them want.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has written for Al Arabiya and has also published in Turkish and Israeli publications. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow @BklynMiddleton on Twitter.