Terror waves and breakwaters

A Neokohn főmunkatársa, Izraelben élő biztonságpolitikai szakértő.

On April 7, in the hours when the White City of Tel Aviv, was sitting back, relaxing and preparing for the long weekend, the unthinkable happened again. Robert C. Castel offers up an analysis of the present situation in Israel, and its ties to the war in Ukraine. 

A 28-year-old Palestinian terrorist, Ra’ad Hazem, opened fire on a cafe, killing three youths his age and wounding nine other patrons. The perpetrator is a resident of Jenin (Samaria), who was in Israel without permission. Hazem

was a member of the terrorist organization „Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade” and was wearing the black uniform of the organization during the attack.

After several hours of manhunt, the whereabouts of the perpetrator was identified. During the arrest attempt, a gun battle broke out, during which the terrorist lost his life.

That night’s attack is the fourth milestone in a wave of terror that has claimed 14 victims so far.

There is a well-known saying within the profession. One case is chance, two cases are coincidence, three cases are a pattern. Now that we are on the fourth case with the Tel Aviv attack, it is time to reflect on the intelligence, operational, political and geopolitical aspects of the phenomenon.

For strange as it may seem,

there is a very strong link between the war in Eastern Europe and the wave of terror in the Middle East.


At a strategic level, the attack came as no surprise. Monthly statistical analysis of terrorist attacks has made it clear that we are seeing the early stages of an escalating wave of terror.

The gradual quantitative increase was accompanied by a significant qualitative jump at the end of March. In the last week of the month, three terrorist attacks took place in different major Israeli cities. These attacks resulted in 11 fatalities.

The phenomenon was detected and responded to early. What we failed to do was identify the terrorist organizations opposing us.

Some of the terrorist attacks in late March were carried out by Islamic State extremists,

and, as a result, attention has been focused in that direction. This has happened despite the warnings of some experts, including the author of these lines, that organizational affiliation is not one-dimensional and that there are no impenetrable firewalls between organizations. It is not uncommon, for example, for an offender to serve as an officer in one of the intelligence apparatuses of the “peace partner” Palestinian Authority, to have tribal or family loyalties to Hamas, and to be radicalized at the individual level by Islamic State videos.

It is not impossible that the allure of the “Islamic State brand” and the surprise of its sudden return has led to an intelligence blind spot, with other radical organizations being left out of the picture.

From here, it is only a step to the failure of preventive intelligence. The day, as we know, consists of only 24 hours, including a night, and

chasing the phantom of ISIS all day, you have less time to look up and around.

I recognize that this criticism is unfair to some extent. No one is a gutless person, and one must always put out the fire that burns the hottest. It is also possible that if the two attacks inspired by the Islamic State had not been followed by a strong response, there would have been further acts of terrorism from that direction. There is no doubt, however, that in the shadow of the ISIS actions, two other attacks were in the pipeline, by various Fatah organizations, which form the core of the Palestinian Autonomy. These were neither identified nor prevented.

Tactical intelligence was very effective in the hunt following the Tel Aviv attack. In a matter of hours, they were able to identify the „needle” hiding in a haystack in a metropolis of half a million people. As mentioned above, the perpetrator was incapacitated in the ensuing firefight.


Beyond the Fauda romanticization of the images, there are two operational aspects of the case that are worth briefly analyzing.

The first is the issue of the security fence.

The security fence separating Israel from Judea and Samaria was a direct consequence of the war of terror known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada of 2000.

The 700-kilometer-long barrier played an important role in curbing terrorist acts, mainly by suicide bombers.

A collateral consequence was that the new fence simultaneously made it more difficult for Palestinian illegal workers to infiltrate Israel. As the security situation improved, decision-makers recognized that the gaps in the fence that had developed over the years were acting as a kind of socio-economic safety valve. These gaps allowed illegal Palestinian workers to cross the Green Line without permission and find work. The improvement in employment indicators has led to an improvement in the economic situation of Palestinians. A working hypothesis has developed within the security apparatus that the „guarding” of the gaps can be outsourced to Palestinians, appealing to their own economic interests. This slowly evolving modus vivendi has proved beneficial to both sides over the years. The sustainability of this tacit understanding was called into question, however, by the terrorist attack in Bnei Brak after it was confirmed that the perpetrator had breached the security fence through one of these gaps.

Another noteworthy aspect is that the operational response to the Tel Aviv attack provided a rare glimpse behind-the-scenes of Israeli Special Forces.

As the fighting took place in the center of a global city, in front of thousands of mobile phone cameras, the operation caused enormous damage from a counter-insurgency perspective.

Faces, assets, and tactics that these units keep as closely guarded secrets are suddenly available to the world.

The damage is compounded by the fact that it is very difficult to determine its extent. In all likelihood, a feverish effort is underway at this hour to collect visual material from the web for damage assessment. However, no matter how thorough the work of the “clean-up crew,” there is always the possibility that there is additional footage out there that has not been uploaded to the web. These will act as defensive landmines in the years to come, jeopardizing the success of operations and lives.


What conclusions can be drawn at a political level from the Tel Aviv attack and the three other terrorist attacks that preceded it, from the identity of the perpetrators and their organizational affiliation?

The attacks in Be’er Sheva and Hadera were perpetrated by Israeli Arab citizens radicalized by the Islamic State.

The Bnei Brak bomber was a Fatah activist from Samaria and the Tel Aviv terrorist was a fighter from the “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade,” whose father is a senior Fatah official. Perhaps to this can be added the three terrorists who were disposed of near Nablus on their way to meet their fate in an armed attack. They were fighters from the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ). The operation in Samaria in which they were killed was aptly named Operation Breakwater.

The first conclusion is that

virtually all Palestinian organizations of any standing are represented in this wave of terror,

including Fatah, the core of Palestinian autonomy. So much for the idealistic theory that there is only an extremist minority on both sides and that the silent majority really wants peace.

The gradually intensifying wave of terror could turn into another ecumenical war of terror in which not only extremist organizations will be confronted, but a large part of the Palestinian people.

The fact that the attacks took place inside the „Green Line” puts another nail in the coffin of the „Palestinian claims are limited to the territories captured from Jordan in 1967” narrative. A single assassination speaks more eloquently than a whole series of peace rhetoric in English, delivered in Arabic accents.

There are some positive signs, however.

Israel’s moderate Arab allies and even most of the less moderate regional players condemned the attack.

Even Mr. Abu Mazen, the President of the Palestinian Authority, managed to squeeze out a few positive statements, using the pseudo-Talleyrandian theme of “terrorism is not a crime, but a mistake.” Surprisingly, even Hamas intervened to cool Gaza’s spirits and prevented the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) from firing rockets at Israel in response to the dismantling of the three-man terror cell.

However, these positive signs are not entirely cloudless.

The Palestinian Authority does not mind if Israeli Arab citizens or Hamas commit acts of terrorism, provided that Israel does not make them pay for it.

Hamas is also happy, provided that Israeli retaliation does not affect them, but hits the Palestinian Authority. The result of these Machiavellian chess moves is a destabilization cycle that could set the Middle East ablaze in short order. The impact of a generalized Middle East conflict on the world’s energy economy is almost incalculable.

Russian energy would take an even bigger hit and sanctions would become unsustainable in most parts of the world.

The question is: Why this sudden escalation now?


Is there a link between the rocket attacks in Kiev and the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv?

My assessment is that there is.

With the collapse of the unipolar world order, frozen conflicts are slowly thawing. The uncertain balance of power needs to be reassessed.

And such a subtle adjustment is otherwise known as war.

In the wake of the events in Ukraine, extremists in the Middle East are suddenly rearing their heads and saying to themselves that if we can see tank battles in Eastern Europe again, anything is possible in this crazy world.

It only takes a very small step from here for the unthinkable to become inevitable.

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