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.
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.
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.