After bombing, Hamas seeks credit while evading responsibility
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Analysis3 of the terrorist's relatives killed a Shin Bet agent in the 1990s

After bombing, Hamas seeks credit while evading responsibility

The hesitant Hamas announcement that the Jerusalem bus bomber is 'one of ours' allows the group to continue pushing for attacks without directing them, putting Israel in a spot over how to respond

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Israeli police forensics examine the scene of a bus bombing in Jerusalem on April 18, 2016. (Hadas Parush/FLASh90)
Israeli police forensics examine the scene of a bus bombing in Jerusalem on April 18, 2016. (Hadas Parush/FLASh90)

One mystery is solved. The identity of a man severely wounded in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem — suspected of having planted the bomb that exploded on the Number 12 bus — was discovered last night, shortly after the hospital announced he had succumbed to his wounds.

But the Hamas announcement that Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from the al-Ayda refugee camp in the Bethlehem area, was “one of ours” fell short of a full claim of responsibility for the attack, which injured 20 other people.

The Gaza-based terror group released a photo of Abu Srour wearing a Hamas scarf, and another photo that was decorated with emblems of the Second Intifada. But the announcement on the organization’s official website opened with a quote from a “Zionist” Facebook page providing the initial information that it was Abu Srour who had carried out the attack.

None of the group’s senior officials rushed to proudly declare that Hamas was behind the attack, but it appears that every Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been made well aware via social media who is claiming credit, if not full responsibility.

Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour seen here in an undated photograph adorned with the Hamas emblem of the Second Intifada, has been named by Hamas as the person responsible for the April 18 bus bombing in Jerusalem. He died of wounds sustained in the terror attack on April 20, 2016. (Courtesy)
Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour seen here in an undated photograph adorned with the Hamas emblem of the Second Intifada, has been named by Hamas as the person responsible for the April 18 bus bombing in Jerusalem. He died of wounds sustained in the terror attack on April 20, 2016. (Courtesy)

Abad al-Hamid Abu Srour is not just another “lone wolf” terrorist. He was known to Palestinian security forces, and possibly the Israelis too; one of his family members was killed during recently during clashes with Israeli security forces not far from his home near Bethlehem.

His last name is well known among operatives in the Shin Bet security service: In January 1993, Maher Abu Srour, a Palestinian informant who comes from the same clan, along with two members of his family, Nasser and Mahmoud Abu Srour, killed his Shin Bet coordinator Chaim Nachmani.

Maher had made an appointment with Nachmani in a safe house in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia. When he arrived, Abu Srour charged at Nachmani with a knife before his two family members joined him to finish off the murder. A week later, Nasser and Mahmoud were arrested but Maher repeatedly evaded arrest by Israeli security forces until he was killed while trying to carry out another attack five months later in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood.

The hesitant announcement by Hamas highlights the dilemma that has plagued its leadership since the attack took place three days ago: explicitly declare responsibility and glory in the ensuing credit but risk being dragged into a confrontation with Israel, or keep a safe distance away and try to cover up that the bomber was a member of the group.

Apparently the news of the Abu Srour’s death resolved the dilemma. Being able to to claim responsibility for a “martyr” is probably worth the risk given the potential points gained in Palestinian public opinion.

And here begins the Israeli dilemma — how to respond.

While there may not have been a direct command by the Hamas leadership to plant the bomb, the message being directed to Hamas operatives from the leadership in Gaza and abroad is clear: carry out as many attacks as possible, wherever you can, in order to perpetuate the “lone wolf intifada.”

Firefighters and rescue personnel at the scene of a bus bombing in Jerusalem, on April 18, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Firefighters and rescue personnel at the scene of a bus bombing in Jerusalem, on April 18, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Hamas leaders are hoping that the “success” of Abu Srour will lead to copycat attacks and that other young Palestinians will draw inspiration by carrying out freelance attacks significantly more devastating than the ones we have become accustomed to in the past six months.

While 29 Israelis and four others have been killed in the wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October, there hasn’t been anything close to the magnitude of wreckage wrought by the bombing of buses and cafes seen during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

What is Israel supposed to do in these circumstances?

If Israel decides to take action against the inciting Hamas leadership there is a risk of a real escalation on the Gaza front. But not responding could be seen as a green light to Hamas that it can continue to carry out attacks, at least in the West Bank, with impunity.

All this comes at a time when intense discussions are being conducted with the Palestinian Authority on suspending or reducing IDF operations in West Bank towns, in order to prevent a breakdown of security coordination between the two sides.

The attack in Jerusalem and the area where the terrorist came from — Bethlehem is controlled by the PA — reduce the chances of Israel and the PA reaching an agreement on maintaining the fragile security coordination.

Which suits Hamas just fine.

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