What if the Hamas terror cell in Abu Dis had succeeded?
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Analysis

What if the Hamas terror cell in Abu Dis had succeeded?

One or two of the suicide bombings the Islamists were planning could have plunged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into yet another low

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.

Gunmen from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, stand guard during a parade marking the ruling Islamist terror movement's 28th birthday on December 11, 2015, in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Gunmen from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, stand guard during a parade marking the ruling Islamist terror movement's 28th birthday on December 11, 2015, in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Today we once again witnessed the dire consequences of the “Lone Wolf Intifada,” with the stabbing attack at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate. And yet, relatively speaking, this intifada seems to be under a degree of control both on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, with security coordination being maintained. Palestinian workers are still coming into Israel. The Palestinian Authority is surviving. And overall, Israeli citizens have become used to a sick reality in which almost every day Palestinians try to attack them.

But what would have happened if the Hamas infrastructure exposed by the Shin Bet in Abu Dis in East Jerusalem Wednesday had managed to carry out even a small portion of its plans?

You don’t need a wild imagination to consider what would have happened if one suicide bombing had taken place, or maybe even two. The Israeli government would have come under immense pressure to take steps against the PA, and the call for a closure of the major West Bank cities would have come from every direction. The pressure would likely have led to a ban on all Palestinian workers entering Israel, and possibly even to a widespread IDF operation in one or more West Bank cities.

And from that point on, it would be a small step indeed to a still graver deterioration. Tens of thousands more unemployed Palestinians would be on the streets, with hundreds of thousands affected by their loss of income. More violent confrontations with young Palestinians would likely ensue. The fraying of cooperation between the PA security forces and the IDF would be inevitable, maybe even a complete severance of such cooperation. And at the end of that slippery slope, the collapse of the PA itself.

Paramedics at the scene where two Palestinian stabbed three Israelis at the Old City's Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 23, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Paramedics at the scene where two Palestinian stabbed three Israelis at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 23, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An unrealistic scenario? Absolutely not. And that’s precisely why Hamas has been trying so hard to set up an infrastructure capable of carrying out suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, including inside sovereign Israel.

According to the details of the Hamas cell revealed by the Shin Bet, the initiative to set it up came from Gaza. The military leadership of Hamas is avoiding a direct confrontation with Israel in Gaza but is doing a lot to heat things up in the West Bank. Senior Hamas operatives in Gaza know they have a certain amount of immunity from Israel, because Israel does not want another major conflict there.

The people who are today orchestrating the effort to carry out attacks are mostly Hamas members who were freed in the 2011 Shalit exchange — West Bankers who were exiled to Gaza under the deal. Somebody in Israel evidently believed, or wanted to believe, that confining them to Gaza would reduce the danger they presented. Except that even from Gaza, these people have now become a central headache for Israel in the West Bank.

The Shin Bet security service reveals photographs of a laboratory allegedly used by Hamas operatives to create explosive devices for use in suicide bombings and other terror attacks in the West Bank on December 23, 2015. (Courtesy)
The Shin Bet security service reveals photographs of a laboratory allegedly used by Hamas operatives to create explosive devices for use in suicide bombings and other terror attacks in the West Bank on December 23, 2015. (Courtesy)

Had this Abu Dis cell succeeded, it could have changed the entire nature of the current conflict. The “lone wolf intifada,” emblemized by the knife, could quickly have become an intifada of guns and suicide bomber belts, like the Second Intifada.

But even though this weapons factory and infrastructure were discovered, the fact is that every passing day moves us closer to Second Intifada-style terrorism. Among the many reasons for this: rising motivation in Hamas to carry out suicide bombings in order to weaken the PA; the lack of any real Israeli threat to the military leadership of Hamas that is seeking to orchestrate West Bank violence from Gaza; and of course, the rising level of despair among young West Bank Palestinians, with no hope of diplomatic progress on the horizon.

All of this means that the possibility of suicide bombings becomes more real day by day, and with it the unraveling of the PA.

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