2017’s terror threat: The lone wolf attacker – Arab-Israeli Conflict

Weapon confiscated from West Bank terror cell by Israeli security forces.
(photo credit:SHIN BET)

Since October 2015, a wave of violence has been plaguing Israel and the West Bank and has seen Palestinian youth stabbing, running over and shooting Israeli soldiers and civilians, including some tourists.

While the violence has decreased since its peak in the winter of 2016 during which attacks took place on an almost daily basis, the lone wolf terrorist has emerged as the new face of terrorism.

The lone wolf attacker poses a new and different type of threat than those directed by an organized group. The IDF has been tackling this new threat cautiously but effectively. According to Lt. Col. Sagiv Dahan, Officer of Operations Branch for the West Bank Division who spoke to the Jerusalem Post about the threat, the army has succeeded in foiling many attacks ahead of time due to intelligence gathering and profiling.

Defense officials have set the profile of the lone wolf attacker, characterizing perpetrators of such a kind as Palestinian males aged 15-24 who come from six or seven villages in the West Bank and who target specific locations in the West Bank – the Gush Etzion Junction, Hebron, Tapuach Junction, Kikar Aryieh near Ariel and the southern entrance to Nablus- all locations which have become “symbols” of Israel in the West Bank.  

While many Palestinians who fit the profile of a lone wolf attacker are inspired by what they see and read online about previous attacks or the death of a family member by the IDF, many others who have suicidal leanings or mental health problems-such as the recent attack by 57 year-old Jamil Tamimi who stabbed British student Hannah Bladon to death in Jerusalem on Friday– pose a high risk to carry out an attack.

According to intelligence officials, between October 2015 to January 2016, 40% of attackers were later found to have suicidal motives. Many other attackers, Dahan said, come from the fringes of Palestinian society and while they may not be suicidal they are not succeeding in life and are looking for a way out of their problems, including many women.

The risk of copycat attacks after any successful attack is high as there will be many who will want to take revenge, especially if the attack was carried out by a woman and she was killed, Dahan added.

According to another senior officer in the West Bank, the best solution to protect against a lone wolf attack is to prepare and train soldiers how to properly react. “We are always worried that someone will wake up and want to carry out an attack, we are not able to track these lone wolves with 100% certainty,” the senior officer said at his base outside the West Bank city of Tulkarem, adding that soldiers must recognize that situations can go “from 0-100” in a matter of seconds. 

According to him, due to this training, the large majority of lone wolf attacks have ended in a way that the army would want, with the attacker neutralized and with no harm caused to any Israelis.

IDF and Shin Bet arrest terror shooting ring at Ofra in the West Bank. Credit: IDF

While lone wolf attacks are hard to prevent, Israeli security forces, including the Shin Bet intelligence agency, Israeli Defense Forces and police, have increased their efforts to get to the root of the problem in several different ways.

With an increase of shooting attacks in recent months, the IDF has focused on thwarting such attacks by carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, uncovering and sealing unofficial workshops producing illegal weapons.

The illegal weapons are seized by security forces, greatly reducing the number available and increasing the cost for potential attackers. According to the IDF, 43 weapons factories have been shut down and over 450 illegal weapons were seized in 2016. Another 12 weapons factories and over 115 illegal weapons were discovered and confiscated by security forces since January 2017 alone.

A senior IDF official indicates that thousands of attacks have been thwarted due to intelligence gathering, including by an increase in monitoring of social media activity, which often results in the arrest of individuals who express their desire to set out on attacks or attempt to inspire others to do so on social networks like Facebook.

But military operations are only one part in solving the issue of the lone wolf terrorist. The IDF has understood that they must intervene on a social level, working with community leaders and family members of young Palestinians they consider at risk of carrying out an attack to help dissuade the youth. 

“We tell them that if you want to carry out an attack, it won’t only have an impact on you, but it will affect your entire family,” Dahan said.

According to Dahan, the army doesn’t want people to get into this cycle of violence. “We have no interest in killing anyone, we want to kill their motivation to become terrorists. That is our main goal, to get them before the act.”

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