The double murders on Monday of soldier Almog Shiloni in Tel Aviv and Dalia Lemkus outside Alon Shvut in the West Bank, perpetrated amid a constant drumbeat of low-level violence in Jerusalem and rising tension on the Temple Mount, raise questions not just about the Israel Police’s ability to contain the spread and volume of the violence. They also raise questions about the tactics and true desires of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has played at least a partial role in igniting the unrest in Jerusalem.
Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino, speaking at a conference on homeland security on Monday, called the stabbing attack in Tel Aviv “part of a continuum of incidents,” which are difficult to stop because “it is hard to know what the lone attacker will do, where he will come from, [making it] hard to provide a response.”
The Israel Police, a force of 29,000 officers total, has moved sizable re-enforcements to Jerusalem in an attempt to quell the violence and make sure it does not mushroom into a full-blown armed resistance stemming from the Temple Mount.
The attacks and the unrest, however, have spread like a wavering fire, in bursts, from Jerusalem, to the Israeli Arab sector, to Tel Aviv.
To be sure, the primary fuel for the fire has been Islamist sentiment and incitement.
Hamas has been calling for, and actively trying to instigate, an intifada for many months.
Additionally, the pulsating power of the Islamic State’s barbarism is being felt across the Middle East, veteran defense analyst Ron Ben-Yishai noted on the Ynet website, where he asserted that there is “a direct link” between the stabbing in Tel Aviv and the beheading videos on YouTube.
But Abbas, too, has played a role. And his Fatah faction has also done so, including by posting cartoons and other inciteful material encouraging attacks on Israeli targets.
Dr. Shaul Bartal, a lecturer on Palestinian affairs at Bar Ilan University and a former officer in military intelligence, described a shift by Abbas in recent months.
During the war in Gaza, Bartal said, Hamas portrayed Abbas as a traitor, walking in lock step with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This forced him into a sort of crisis, where he had to prove that he was no less nationalist than Hamas,” Bartal said.
Since he was unable to release large swaths of prisoners through the diplomatic channels, as Hamas had done through violent actions, he opted for the other issue around which all Palestinians can unite: Jerusalem.
Hence his call for a day of rage on the Temple Mount last week, Bartal said, and hence the constant agitation from Ramallah.
Thus far, aside from Monday afternoon’s attack in Alon Shvut, the West Bank has been relatively calm. But if the fire continues to spread and intensify, it could well cross the security barrier (which a Likud government started only under the extreme duress of suicidal terror over a decade ago and subsequently left unfinished). There it would lick, to paraphrase IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, at the edges of Abbas’s suit.