Terror in Jerusalem / No intelligence ahead of attack
After a week of failed efforts to settle scores with Israel for the casualties caused by its operation in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terror organizations scored a string of successes yesterday. The day began with the bombing of an army jeep along the Gaza border, which was videotaped by Islamic Jihad. It continued with a direct rocket hit on a house in Sderot that wounded several people, and ended with the deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the flagship institute of the religious Zionist movement. The latter was the worst terror attack to take place inside Israel in almost two years.
It provided a grim reminder of those days at the height of the second intifada, when Jerusalem was hit by a string of murderous terror attacks. What Israel's security services have accomplished in the West Bank over the last three years is a virtual miracle in professional terms: They succeeded in bringing terror down to a very low, even tolerable, level. It is commonplace to claim that terror cannot be defeated militarily, but in the West Bank, Israel has come as close as humanly possible - closer than anyone else has come in any other similar conflict elsewhere on the globe in recent years.
The success of yesterday's attack shows that the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank is still alive and kicking. And the terrorists' motivation has apparently been spurred by their heavy losses in Gaza, as well as a desire to avenge the killing of senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyah (a group called the "Mughniyah Brigades" was the first to claim responsibility for the Jerusalem attack, though the truth of this claim is doubtful).
The defense establishment received several warnings about plans to perpetrate terror attacks inside Israel this week, but none, it seems, about the one in Jerusalem. And that makes sense: In recent years, Israel's superb intelligence network in the West Bank has enabled the security services to foil almost all attacks about which they receive even the tiniest scrap of information.
As of press time yesterday, the terrorist who perpetrated the shooting had not yet been identified. However, it seems likely that residents of East Jerusalem either perpetrated or abetted the attack. Because East Jerusalem residents carry Israeli identity cards, they can move freely throughout the country, making it easier for them to gather information about a target like Mercaz Harav, which is located deep in west Jerusalem. But it is also important to remember that nearly six years after Israel started building the separation fence, it is still far from finished. Thus it is possible to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank.
The Jerusalem attack will most likely prompt only pinpoint responses: arresting those in the terrorist's immediate circle, identifying the cell that sent him and then eliminating the cell. The closure on the West Bank will probably be tightened for a few days, and additional checkpoints will be set up. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's demand that Israel reduce the number of checkpoints in the West Bank will evidently have to wait. Security will also need to be beefed up in Jerusalem, lest the terrorists try to build on their success by launching a string of attacks that would undermine the sense of security of the city's residents.
Even if there is no direct connection between the attack in Jerusalem and the situation in Gaza, each arena influences the other. Anger at the attack in Jerusalem might spur the government to take harsher measures in Gaza, especially if it turns out that Hamas was involved in the attack. Moreover, given that Mercaz Harav is the ideological bastion of the religious right, the incident might spur revenge attacks by Jews.
The new year is just over two months old, and the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror - 15 - is higher than the total for all of last year (13). That does not bode well for the future.