Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.
The trend began on October 22 when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. A three-month-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were killed; 8 people were wounded.
On November 5, another Palestinian man drove another car into a light-rail station, this time killing a Border Police officer and injuring 14 individuals.
On November 10, in two separate incidents, Palestinian attackers stabbed and killed a 25-year-old woman near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and a 20-year-old soldier who was waiting at a train station in Tel Aviv. Two others were injured in the former attack.
And now on November 17, two attackers armed with a hatchet, knives, and a gun entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem and killed five people, one of them a policeman, the other four immigrants who held either joint U.S.-Israeli or joint British-Israeli citizenship. In addition three of the dead were rabbis.
This is the worst single terrorist attack in Israel in three years and arguably the worst spate of attacks since the defeat of the second intifada a decade ago. In some ways the reliance of these attackers on such primitive weapons–knives and hatchets and cars–is a sign of how successful the Israeli security services have been in shutting down the elaborate suicide-bomber networks which once terrorized Israel. This summer the Iron Dome system, moreover, showed that Israel was more or less safe from rocket attack. So terrorists have to resort to crude attacks with little planning to sow mayhem.
But as we are seeing, even crude attacks can be deadly–and not just in Israel. These “lone wolf” attacks are similar in spirit to those that we have recently seen in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and other place where fanatics inflamed by jihadist propaganda have set out to inflict indiscriminate casualties. Such attacks are inherently less deadly than more planned operations carried out by teams of people–but they are also much harder to stop.
The problem is that such attacks are typically carried out by radicalized Muslims who are citizens of the countries they attack, whether living in East Jerusalem or Cambridge, Massachusetts. And they are radicalized by propaganda that is all but impossible to stop, given the ability of jihadists to get their message out via the Internet.
For the U.S., this so far has been a relatively limited if still dangerous trend because so few American Muslims have been radicalized. For Israel, it is a rather more serious problem given that there are an estimated 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. If a substantial number become radicalized, Israeli leaders will face a true nightmare scenario.
Luckily that has not happened and is unlikely to happen despite all of the efforts by groups such as Hamas to raise an internal insurgency. In fact, although Arab Israelis gripe (understandably) about being second-class citizens, most realize they have richer and freer lives than if they lived in one of the dysfunctional Arab states that surround Israel.
Terrible as the recent attacks have been–and worse may be to come–the real story here may be how few Arab residents of Israel have chosen to take up arms against the Jewish state. That is, in part, to be sure, a tribute to the vigilance of the Israeli security services, but it is also a result of the fact that Israel is not a bad place to live even if you’re not Jewish.