The tensions that fuel terror attacks haven’t gone away
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Analysis

The tensions that fuel terror attacks haven’t gone away

What motivates an employed father of four, without help and with no apparent affiliation to any terror group, to drive a truck murderously through a crowd of soldiers?

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.

The scene where a truck rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing at least four in a suspected vehicle-ramming attack, in the Armon Hanetziv neighborhood of Jerusalem.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The scene where a truck rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing at least four in a suspected vehicle-ramming attack, in the Armon Hanetziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The terrorist who drove his truck into a group of soldiers on Sunday at the Armon Hanatziv promenade in Jerusalem, killing four before being shot dead by the soldiers and a tour guide, has been identified as Fadi al-Qunbar, 28, from the nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

Qunbar was married and the father of four, different from the general profile of previous “lone” attackers in the recent wave of stabbing and car-ramming attacks.

This is not the first time in the last year and a half that there have been older terrorists (including a 72-year-old woman from Hebron) who left behind families. Even so, the vast majority were young and single.

Qunbar had a seven-month-old daughter. He was not unemployed, and actually worked with the same truck he used to kill four and wound 16.

A composite image of the four Israeli soldiers killed on January 8, 2017 in a truck-ramming terror attack in Jerusalem. From left, IDF Lieutenant Yael Yekutiel, IDF Cadet Shir Hajaj, IDF Cadet Shira Tzur, IDF Cadet Erez Orbach. (Handout photos IDF Spokesperson)
A composite image of the four Israeli soldiers killed on January 8, 2017 in a truck-ramming terror attack in Jerusalem. From left, IDF Lieutenant Yael Yekutiel, IDF Cadet Shir Hajaj, IDF Cadet Shira Tzur, IDF Cadet Erez Orbach. (Handout photos IDF Spokesperson)

He had a blue permanent residency identity card, and according to his family had never been detained by Israeli security forces, contrary to the initial report in Arabic-language media that said he was a recently released security prisoner.

His sister told a group of reporters outside their house on Sunday that he never belonged to any Palestinian organization or political group, and that he had even called his wife shortly before the attack and asked her to make him lunch.

It’s not yet clear what or who incited him to carry out the attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was a supporter of the Islamic State. There are no clear indications from his social media activities that this was true. It is possible that Netanyahu’s statement could actually encourage IS to claim responsibility for the attack, but it is doubtful if there was any direct connection between the group and Qunbar. The assertion, at any rate, helps Netanyahu’s claim to the West that “Islamic State is here,” and the group’s claim that it has a presence in “occupied Palestine.”

Fadi al-Qanbar, named as the terrorist who plowed a truck into Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem on January 8, 2017 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Fadi al-Qanbar, named as the terrorist who plowed a truck into Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem on January 8, 2017 (Channel 2 screenshot)

For now, it appears that Qunbar acted according to the same modus operandi we have seen before in Jerusalem: a terrorist with no organizational affiliation, inspired by the news media, a mosque or social media, who carries out an attack without outside assistance. Afterwards, the terror organizations claim him as their own in order to ride the wave of his “success.”

Unsurprisingly, Hamas and Islamic Jihad both praised the attack, and in Gaza even organized a parade to celebrate this first attack of 2017.

It is no secret that Hamas wants a violent uprising in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it wants to make the most of Sunday’s attack after several months of relative quiet. Such attacks can inspire public support — and even copy-cat terrorists in the coming days and weeks.

Recent months have seen a steep decrease in the number of attacks. There are several reasons for this, including the efforts of Israeli security forces, a new emphasis on monitoring social media, a certain drop in incitement in official Palestinian media, and the hard work of the Palestinian security forces, among others.

But the key tension that led to the original outbreak of violence in October 2015 remains: the lack of any diplomatic prospect, ongoing frustration with the Palestinian Authority, anger toward Israel, and continued robust incitement on social media. In recent days, for example, Hamas has run a campaign calling on Palestinian youths to emulate a notorious Hamas bomb maker, the “engineer” Yahya Ayyash. Last week marked the 21st anniversary of his assassination by Israel.

All this creates a tense atmosphere, permeated with hate, that could at any moment lead to further “spontaneous” attacks.

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