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Is the latest Palestinian terror wave ending?

Apr 14, 2016

Is the latest Palestinian terror wave ending?

Update from AIJAC

April 14, 2016

Update 04/16 #04

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service reported to Israel’s cabinet on Sunday that there had been a sharp fall in the number of major terror attacks over the past month. This has prompted speculation that the wave of near daily Palestinian terror attacks, often by lone wolves armed with knives or other simple weapons, that has been occurring since last October may be coming to an end. This Update looks at the evidence for this view, and some explanations for the decline now being offered. 

We lead with a piece from the major Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot by security reporter Yoav Zitun detailing what the Israeli security forces say they have done that they believe has led to the decline.  A lot of their efforts also seems to involve working with local town leaders to both address grievances and control flash-points, and as well, cracking down on incitement to violence, particularly on social media. The piece also discusses the Israeli army’s effort to educate soldiers about what happened with the “Hebron shooter”, the soldier charged with manslaughter who was filmed shooting dead an apparently disarmed Palestinian attacker a few weeks ago. For the rest of this report on Israeli methods, CLICK HERE

Next up is Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, offering more detail on what the Shin Bet had to say about the decline in violence, as well as the government’s effort to claim political credit. The Shin Bet says two key measures taken have been the containing of Hamas efforts to join the current wave of major terror attacks, and, as noted by Zitun above, cracking down on violent incitement – yet also trying to preserve cooperation with Palestinian security services and minimising the impact of Israeli measures on the daily life of Palestinians. The result has been a conclusion by the Palestinian population – and even lone wolf attackers – that further escalation is not useful. For more details and discussion, CLICK HERE

Finally, Israeli strategic expert and former general Yossi Kuperwasser looks at the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its President Mahmoud Abbas (also know as Abu Mazen) in the decline in violence. Kupperwasser says there has been a definite shift in approach by the PA,  including messaging in schools and to Palestinian young people, and increased activity by the security forces, toward attempting to rein in the wave of attacks, accompanied by outreach to Israelis, as described in the last Update. However, Kupperwasser argues that this is primarily a pragmatic decision, reflecting a calculation that there is declining expediency and rising costs in continued terror – and that previously there had been a deliberate attempt to encourage and incite such terror. For all of his analysis of the reasons for this apparent Palestinian re-think, CLICK HERE. Kupperwasser also outlines some of his views on recent Palestinian efforts to rein in terror in a video interview.


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What happened to all the stabbing attacks?

Analysis: A combination of goodwill gestures by the IDF, better tactical operations, and proactive measures taken by the Palestinian security services has discouraged Palestinians from carrying out stabbing attacks in the past few weeks.

Yoav Zitun, April 11

Is the third intifada coming to its end? Six months since Eitam and Na’ama Heinkin were murdered near Nablus, the attack that symbolizes the beginning of what grew into a popular yet unorganized intifada which claimed the lives of 34 Israelis, the most recent data points to a dramatic drop in terror attacks. 

The last substantial terror attack took place more than two weeks ago, when two terrorists stabbed two soldiers in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, lightly to moderately wounding the latter two. Ironically, what happened 11 minutes later could have escalated the violent uprising; a Kfir Brigade soldier arrived at the scene as reinforcement and shot one of the terrorists who lying, neutralized on the ground. Despite fear of reprisals, Palestinians have not carried out new attacks. In fact, officers in the West Bank Division have said that Palestinian officials have relayed to them that the Israeli public and military response to the incident has calmed Palestinian desire to exact revenge.

“Since successful lone wolf attacks inspire new attacks, if we succeed in preventing successful (attacks) for three weeks or a month, it is plausible that the terror wave will end,” remarked a senior officer in the IDF Central Command and it appears that he is correct. No one in the IDF is prepared to declare that the intifada is behind us and while some have moved in that direction, the West Bank Division has continued to develop new and creative measures to further reinforce stability.

IDF confiscates printer in Dheisheh refugee camp (Photo:IDF spokesperson)
IDF confiscates printer in Dheisheh refugee camp (Photo:IDF spokesperson)

Roman Gofman, commander of the IDF’s Gush Etzion Brigade, has succeeded in stopping tens of attacks at the Gush Etzion junction, offering “carrots” to lighten the atmosphere. “The young Palestinian generation is frustrated and despairing; they are looking for hope,” a senior officer in the West Bank Division told Ynet.

Gofman has held many candid talks in recent weeks with village leaders and he acceded to a request of the head of the Al-Arroub refugee camp to open the rear entrances to the village to lower the number of rock throwing incidents on Route 60, where Israeli cars travel. In a nearby village, Beit Ummar, another major stone throwing site, Gofman is helping build a soccer field for village youth. Moreover, in the entrances to large villages, the army is assisting Palestinians in building orderly parking lots for service taxis, which will decrease the traffic.

At the behest of the Palestinians in Beit Ummar, the IDF is also arranging for the transfer of a cemetery to a location further away from Route 60 to decrease rock throwing at Israeli cars during funerals. Additionally, the army has returned some cars and engineering tools used for illegal building.

“This generation does know Jews. 50 percent of them have not left the village where they were raised. They don’t know what houses in Ashdod and Ashkelon that their forefathers built or beaches in Tel Aviv look like. So what will a 16-year-old Palestinian do after completing his studies?”

After a week long siege on Beit Fajar because two of its residents carried out attacks near Ariel, local leaders gathered their youth and called on them to stop the violence. Similar gatherings have taken place in Sair and Qabatiya. “The Palestinian security services are also doing much more to stop the terror wave,” a senior security official admitted. They are searching the bags of students to find knives and are succeeding in stopping lone wolf terrorists. Additionally, the IDF has raided improvised weapons factories, where the Carl Gustav is produced, and is fighting against incitement.” Regarding incitement, the security establishment initially struggled to address the issue, but recently territorial divisions in the West Bank have created new methods to fight against inciters. Just as the IDF searches for and arrests individuals calling for unrest or the murder of Jews on the radio, the IDF now takes similar action when it comes to incitement on the internet. In addition, the Gush Etzion Brigade is required to arrest at least three Palestinians who spread incitement weekly.

Anti-IDF poster (Photo: IDF spokesperson)
Anti-IDF poster (Photo: IDF spokesperson)

The weekly operation takes place from the military headquarters of territorial brigades near the Gush Etzion junction by an officer from the Civil Administration and an intelligence gathering officer. They collect inciting videos, pictures, and posts uploaded to Facebook and then send them to the legal advisor of the West Bank Division. Thereafter, the IDF arrests the inciter and puts him in front of a court.

“The evidence that we gather before the arrest is enough to bring someone to court or send the inciter to prison for six months to a year. We are talking about people with no security history,” notes an officer. “Being satisfied with the intelligence that we receive from Unit 8200 (an Israeli Intelligence Corps unit – ed.) is too passive. 90 percent of the Palestinian adults have Facebook and we discovered that they are using it primarily in the night between 11:00PM and 2:00AM. We are talking about 1.5 million Facebook users, who are mostly men.”

“What causes attacks today is incitement on Facebook – not mosque leaflets. We arrested a Facebook inciter from Halhoul who has thousands of followers. Following such arrests, we feel a drop in the number of attacks from the same village. And in the case in which we are struggling to gather sufficient evidence to arrest inciters, we go to them at night and warn them.”

The IDF is continuing to take offensive action against incitement deep in the West Bank. A few weeks ago, the IDF discovered leaflets, bearing the picture of the Shin Bet coordinator in Bethlehem and a call to attack him. Then, on Tuesday night, Kfir Brigade soldiers entered the Dheisheh refugee camp and confiscated the private printer, which had printed the leaflets. “The owner of the print shop would have preferred to be arrested and imprisoned instead of his printer being confiscated, which costs hundreds of thousands of shekels,” remarked an officer. 

In light of the recent reports that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are negotiating the entry of IDF forces into area A only in exceptional circumstances, it is possible that such a confiscation operation will not be approved in a number of weeks or months. Field officers in the West Bank Division have not expressed their opinion on the topic, but they note the importance of the IDF’s freedom of movement in villages and cities. The soldiers, who entered the Dheisheh refugee camp and were stoned in their bulletproof cars, said: “It is good that the energy of the same kids is directed against us and not Israeli cars in Efrat.”

But these activities by the Etzion Territorial Brigade are also shadowed by the dark cloud of the Hebron shooter. The soldiers of the Shimshon Battalion, in which the suspect soldier served, have been operating in the Etzion area for nearly six months, and have foiled dozens of attempted attacks, with no previous instances of that kind. The Gush Etzion Junction has also experienced a period of calm, due to the elite Maglan unit’s activities in the area, as well as the implementation of orders forbidding Palestinian pedestrians from passing through the complex, and the introduction of special cameras that can identify unusual movement and alert security forces.

The IDF thankfully embraces every day that passes without further incidents inspired and supported by the Hebron soldier, and its commanders’ attempts to halt such incidents from occurring are ongoing. The West Bank Division even put consultants in touch with territorial brigades, in order to assist in instructing the soldiers in proper conduct on moral, operational, and legal levels, with regards to controversial events such as the Hebron incident.

“We gave the soldiers a questionnaire about that incident, to make sure they understood what’s right. The impression is that, from the level of platoon commanders and upward, their understanding is that the soldier’s actions were wrong. That’s why we’re investing in the lower-level commanders, such as squad leaders and soldiers in the field, who absorb most of the mental stress from the numerous events (in which they take part).”



Shin Bet official: Most Palestinian terrorists motivated by personal crises

Feeling among Palestinian population and prospective lone-wolf attackers that the escalation serves no purpose, official claims.


Herb Keinon

Jerusalem Post, April 10


Most of the lone-wolf Palestinian terrorists who have carried out attacks over the last six months have done so for personal reasons stemming from economic or personal hardships, a senior Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) official told the cabinet on Sunday.

Over the last two months, and especially the past two weeks, there has been a substantial decline in what he called “significant attacks,” he said.

Defining “significant attacks” as stabbings, shootings and car-rammings, the official said the number has dropped from 78 such attacks in October, when the current wave of terrorism began, to 20 in March, and three in the first third of April.

palestinian hebron
Palestinian woman found with knife and arrested near Hebron, November 21, 2015 . (photo credit:POLICE SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Since October 1, some 270 “significant attacks” have been carried out, resulting in the killing of 33 people, including 29 Israelis and four foreign residents. Another 250 people have been wounded.

The official added that 290 “significant attacks” have been prevented since the beginning of 2015, and especially over the last six months, by Israel’s security services,” including 25 attempted kidnappings and 15 suicide attacks.

Nevertheless, he said there remains a great deal of tension on the ground, with Palestinian terrorist groups and others trying to continue to destabilize the situation.

The official attributed the reduction in the number of attacks to steps Israel has taken to thwart them in advance; by preventing Hamas from carrying out attacks such as suicide bombings or kidnappings; and through taking “determined” action to prevent Palestinian incitement.

All these steps were taken, according to the official, while trying to retain, as much as possible, the normal fabric of daily life for the Palestinian population not involved in terrorism, and preserving the security cooperation with the Palestinian security services.

All of this together has resulted in a common feeling among the Palestinian population and prospective lonewolf attackers that escalation is useless, he claimed.

At the start of the cabinet meeting and before the Shin Bet’s briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a key element in reducing the number of attacks has been to limit the number of “successful” assaults.

“The main element leading to the spread of terrorism, elsewhere and in Israel, is the degree to which we reduce the success rate,” Netanyahu said. “We are reducing [the numbers of] those who want to join those successes. That is the main thing that we are doing, and we will continue, while also taking aggressive action against Palestinian incitement.”

Netanyahu attributed the wane in the wave of terrorism to an “aggressive, responsible and systematic policy that the government has led,” saying it contained both offensive and defensive elements, and “brought about a situation where the terrorist elements are succeeding less.”

The prime minister stressed that he was referring to the decrease in the number of attacks with “caution, since this trend can change.”

Later in the day, at a memorial ceremony for Israel’s late presidents and prime ministers, Netanyahu said that, in 2002, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.

Following that operation, the Palestinians learned that Israel will not hesitate to go deep into the territories “to return security to Israel’s citizens,” he said.

The current government, Netanyahu added, is continuing to implement that principle, “going everywhere west of the Jordan River, whenever it is needed.”

By acting against the organized sources of terrorism, Israel has left them unable to carry out significant attacks, he said, meaning that what remains is the lone attacker. There is no organized terrorism because Israel is not letting the organizations operate, he said.

The Shin Bet official added that effective steps Israel has taken to thwart Jewish terrorist attacks, as well as to uncover the infrastructure that led to the Duma arson and other “price tag” actions, also have worked to calm the situation.



Abu Mazen’s Attempt to Blunt the Knife Terror Wave

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, April 10

Abu Mazen’s renewed campaign to mitigate the damage of the knife terror wave on the Israeli attitude toward the Palestinians and his recent successful effort to reduce the terror wave reflect the pressure he is facing and his role in initiating and controlling it.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has recently aimed a new public-diplomacy campaign at the Israeli people. He hosted a delegation of Jews who emigrated from Arab countries and gave an interview to Israeli TV investigative journalist Ilana Dayan (Uvdah program, Channel 2, March 31, 2016). The Israelis who met with him were told of his commitment to peace, recognition of Netanyahu as Israel’s representative, readiness to negotiate with him, and measures to prevent terror attacks. They were told of his notion that the Jews who grew up in the Arab world in an atmosphere of neighborliness are natural peace promoters and of his feeling that peace efforts must be accelerated because time is running out.

Very good, no? Well, perhaps not so good.

Abbas’ sweet talk did not even convince his interlocutors, who are known to be fair game for his blandishments. True, Dayan asked him tougher questions than other Israeli interviewers. But she saw no need to ask why he does not simply condemn the perpetrators of the terror attacks instead of mouthing platitudes about how we are all human beings, and why he does not even say that in Arabic to his own people. Still worse, she did not ask why he speaks of the two-state solution but not about two states for two peoples, and why he repeatedly uses the phrase “the Israeli people” and never “the Jewish people.” (It is striking how, every time Abbas has spoken the former phrase, the translator has preferred other designations such as “the Israelis” or “the people in Israel.”)

The representatives of the Jews from Arab lands indeed complained that the PA chairman had not fulfilled previous promises he had given them about turning to Netanyahu and the king of Morocco in pursuit of peace. Yet, they ignored an article that Abbas published in 1979 and again in 2012, in which he tells the tale that those Jews’ immigration to Israel, particularly from Iraq, was entirely the result of a plot concocted by the Ashkenazi Zionists who, in the wake of the nakba, wanted cheap manpower to replace the Palestinian workers. Abbas, of course, ignored the persecution of the Jews in those countries, including Iraq, and the fact that they were expelled from them with no option of returning. In other words, Abbas does not deviate one iota from the Palestinian narrative that underpins the knife terror.

What was indeed new in Abbas’ words, however, was his story about the PA’s efforts to convince Palestinian youngsters in the school not to carry out stabbing attacks. It is a hair-raising story: Abbas said that in one of the schools 70 students had knives in their backpacks with which they were planning to stab Jews. Second, it shows that Abbas believes in his ability to rein in the phenomenon, if not end it completely, and third, it raises the question of why he decided only now to do something about it.

Terrorism Loses Its Cost Benefits

The answer is apparently also linked to his decision to launch a new public-diplomacy offensive at this stage and his recognition of the declining expediency and rising price of the terror campaign. At least for the time being, the knife terror has more or less exhausted its capacity to return the spotlight to the Palestinian issue. The terror attack in Brussels has again pushed the Palestinian issue to the margins of the international system, and the association being made between the anti-Western terror and the anti-Jewish terror in Israel is not to the Palestinians’ benefit.

Second, the terror has only reconfirmed the Israeli Jewish public’s sobriety about the chances of real peace in this generation, along with their opposition to a settlement based on the core Palestinian positions – that is, granting the Palestinians a state without having to renounce their committed goal of eventually ruling the rest of historical Palestine and vanquishing Zionism.

Third, the international attitude toward boycotting Israel is beginning to change dramatically. There is now more of an inclination to condemn BDS for its fundamentally anti-Semitic stance which denies the Jewish nation-state’s right to exist than to justify the ongoing demonization of Israel. The change in direction is evident in resolutions by legislatures in Canada and in American states, in decisions by European governments, courts, and municipalities, and in the declaration by the regents of the University of California that some kinds of anti-Zionism constitute anti-Semitism (they used rhetorical niceties to placate the radical Palestinians and avoid approving the original wording, which asserts, in line with the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism pure and simple). Fourth, international criticism of the PA’s role in encouraging the terror attacks has begun to emerge (see the article in the British Daily Mail that calls for cutting aid to the PA used to pay salaries for terrorists and their family members). And, fifth, the shocking shooting incident [of a Palestinian stabber by an IDF soldier] in Hebron holds positive potential for the Palestinians that they would not want to risk squandering by renewing the wave of terror attacks. 

The attempt to win over Israelis’ hearts and minds on the one hand and to decrease  the terror attacks on the other are apparently interconnected, not coincidental. Israel must take advantage of these developments. If they lead Abbas to show readiness to negotiate with Israel without preconditions, that can only be welcomed (at this stage, even according to the interview with Ilana Dayan, we are not there yet, and the Palestinian attempt to secure a Security Council resolution on the conflict is a clear indication that they refuse to enter direct negotiations without preconditions). If not, the task with the international system’s help is to make Abu Mazen feel more and more that his situation is worsening and negotiations are the only remedy.

(This article also appeared in Ha’aretz in Hebrew on April 6, 2016.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.




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