Friday, March 25, 2011
Understanding the third terror war
What are we to make of the fact that no one has taken credit for Wednesday's bombing in Jerusalem?
Wednesday's bombing was not a stand-alone event. It was part and parcel of the new Palestinian terror war that is just coming into view. As Israel considers how to contend with the emerging onslaught, it is important to notice how it differs from its predecessors.
On a military level, the tactics the Palestinians have so far adopted are an interesting blend of state-of-the-art missile attacks with old fashioned knife and bomb-in-the- briefcase attacks. The diverse tactics demonstrate that this war is a combination of Iranian-proxy war and local terror pick-up cells. The attacks are also notable for their geographic dispersion and for the absence thus far of suicide attacks.
For the public, the new tactics are not interesting and the message they send is nothing new. With or without suicide bombers, Israelis understand that we are entering a new period of unremitting fear, where we understand that we are in danger no matter where we are. Whether we’re in bed asleep, or our way to work or school, or sitting down on a park bench or at a restaurant, whether we’re in Rishon Lezion, Sderot, Jerusalem, Itamar or Beersheba, we are in the Palestinians’ crosshairs. All of us are “settlers.” All of us are in danger.
The military innovations are important for IDF commanders who need to figure out how to answer the public’s demand for security. They will have to draw operational conclusions about the challenges this mix of tactics and strategic architecture poses.
While the military rationales of the various Palestinian terrorists are important, like its two predecessors, the new Palestinian terror war is first and foremost a political war. Like its two predecessors, which began in 1987 and 2000, the new terror war’s primary purpose is not to murder Jews. Killing is just an added perk. The new war’s primary purpose is to weaken Israel politically in order to bring about its eventual collapse.
And it is in this political context that the various terror armies’ refusal to take responsibility for Wednesday’s attack in Jerusalem, and their moves to shroud in ambiguity much of the responsibility for their recent terror activity is noteworthy. In the past, Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were quick to take credit for massacres.
Initially it seemed as though that standard practice was being continued in the newest round of murder. Fatah’s Aksa Martyrs Brigades, for instance, were quick to take credit for the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar on March 12. Hamas seemed to be competing for credit when its forces held a public celebration of the atrocity in Gaza City on March 13.
But then Fatah withdrew its claim of responsibility, and Hamas never claimed credit.
As for the rocket and missile barrages from Gaza, Hamas took credit for the 58 projectiles shot off on southern Israel last Saturday. But then it let Islamic Jihad take credit for the longer-range Katyusha attacks on Rishon Lezion, Beersheba, Gedera and Ashdod this week.
And again, no one took credit for the bombing in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
WHAT DOES this sudden bout of modesty tell us about how the Palestinian terror masters view the current onslaught against Israel? What does it teach us about their assessment of their political challenges and goals?
In the two previous terror wars, the terror groups had two motivations for taking credit for their attacks. The first reason was to expand their popularity. In Palestinian society, the more Jews you kill, the more popular you are.
The main reason Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections was that the Palestinians believed Hamas terror was responsible for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. Even though Fatah actually killed more Jews than Hamas did between 2000 and 2005, Hamas reaped greater rewards for its attacks because its record was unblemished by political engagement with Israel.
The second reason the various groups have always been quick to take credit for attacks is that they wanted to show their state sponsors that they were putting their arms, training and financial support to good use. Saddam Hussein and the Saudi royals paid handsome rewards to the families of killed and captured terrorists. Over the past several decades, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have spent hundreds of millions of dollars arming, training and financing Palestinian terror cells from Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad alike.
The fact that today neither Hamas nor Fatah is interested in taking credit for Wednesday’s bombing in Jerusalem or for the massacre of the Fogel family is a signal that something fundamental is changing in the political dynamic between the two factions. Before considering what the change may be, a word of explanation about Islamic Jihad is in order.
Islamic Jihad was founded by Iran in 1988. Unlike Hamas and Fatah, Islamic Jihad has no political aspirations. It has no political operatives, and it is content to limit its operations to terrorism.
After the much larger and more powerful Hamas subordinated its command and control to Iran in 2005, Islamic Jihad has served as nothing more than a Hamas sub-contractor. It carries out and takes credit for attacks when Hamas doesn’t wish to do so.
There are two plausible internal Palestinian explanations for Fatah’s and Hamas’s newfound reticence, and they are not mutually exclusive. The first explanation of their silence is that the recent talk about Fatah and Hamas forming a unity government is serious. Fatah’s announcement Thursday that it had arrested two Islamic Jihad terrorists in connection with the Jerusalem bombing is notable in this vein. It signals that after four years of fighting Hamas forces in Judea and Samaria, Fatah is looking for a more politically convenient group of usual suspects.
The second reason Hamas and Fatah may be keeping mum about who is responsible is that they both know who did it and they are using the terror to gain leverage against one another at the negotiating table. If Hamas is carrying out the attacks, its leaders may simply be using them to strengthen their bargaining position in the unity talks. Fatah knows that if Hamas takes credit for the attacks, its mass popularity in Judea and Samaria will grow. And if Fatah is carrying them out, its leaders may be using them to show Hamas that they are serious about burying the hatchet with the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
WHILE THE internal political dynamics of the various Palestinian terror groups is interesting, it is not the main game in town. For both Fatah and Hamas, the most important target audience is Europe. But before we discuss how the Palestinians’ assessment of Europe is connected to their move to obfuscate organizational responsibility for terrorism, it is necessary to consider the concrete political goal of their new terror war.
Fatah is in the midst of a global campaign to build international support for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence in September. From Israel’s perspective, the campaign is threatening for two reasons. First, a unilaterally declared Palestinian state will be in a de facto state of war with Israel. Second, if the Palestinians secure international recognition for their “state” in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the move will place 500,000 Jews who live in these areas in the international crosshairs.
Much of the discussion about this goal has centered on whether or not US President Barack Obama will veto a UN Security Council resolution endorsing such a declaration. And based on Obama’s behavior to date, the Palestinians have good reason to believe that he may support their move. But in truth, the discussion about how the US will respond to the planned Palestinian declaration is largely beside the point. The point of the threatened declaration is not to get a UN Security Council resolution supporting it. The point is to get the EU to enact further sanctions against Israel.
And this brings us back to the new policy of not taking credit for attacks on Israel, and to the decision to launch a new terror war in general. On the face of it, at such a sensitive time for the Palestinians diplomatically, it would seem that they would want to keep their traditional good cop-Fatah, bad cop-Hamas routine going and have Hamas take the credit for the recent attacks. Indeed, it would seem that the Palestinians would want to hold off on attacks altogether until after they declare independence.
The fact that Fatah and Hamas have neither waited until after September to attack nor sought to differentiate themselves from one another as the attacks coalesce into a new terror campaign indicates strongly that the Palestinians no longer feel they need to pretend to oppose terror to maintain European support for their war against Israel.
The Palestinians assess that Europe is swiftly moving toward the point where it no longer needs to pretend to be fair to Israel. The British, French and German votes in favor of the Palestinians’ anti-Israel Security Council resolution last month were the latest sign that the key European governments have adopted openly hostile policies toward Israel.
More importantly, these policies are not the consequence of Palestinian lobbying efforts, and so Israel cannot hope to change them through counter-lobbying efforts. Europe’s abandonment of even the guise of fairness toward Israel is the product of domestic political realities in Europe itself. Between the rapidly expanding political power of Europe’s Muslim communities and the virulently anti-Israel positions nearly universally adopted by the European media, European governments are compelled to adopt ever more hostile positions toward Israel to appease their Israel-hating publics and Muslim communities.
Take British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example. When Cameron called Gaza “an open air prison” last year, it wasn’t because he had just spoken to Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. And he certainly wasn’t acting out of conviction. Cameron surely knew that his statement was an utter lie. And he also surely knew that Hamas is a jihadist terror group that shares the ideology of its fellow Muslim Brotherhood spin-off al- Qaida.
But for Cameron, far more important than Gaza’s relative prosperity and Hamas’s genocidal goals was the fact that in the last British elections, the UK’s Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC-UK) successfully ousted six members of parliament who expressed support for Israel.
The Palestinians recognize that they don’t need to pretend to be good to get Europe to support them. After the people of Europe have been brainwashed by their media and intimidated by the Muslim communities, they have developed a Pavlovian response regarding Israel whereby every mention of Israel makes them hate it more. It doesn’t matter if the story is about the massacre of Israeli children or the bombing of synagogues and nursery schools. They know that Israel is the guilty party and expect the governments to punish it.
What the Palestinian silence on who committed what atrocity tells us is that in this new terror war, the Palestinians believe they cannot lose. With Europe in tow, Fatah and Hamas feel free to join their forces and advance both militarily and politically.