The New Terrorist Wave Sweeping Israel: How is This Year Different from Others?

May 2, 2022

Several aspects of the current wave of violence sweeping Israel since early March make it different from the violence that took place roughly this time last year. It also may point to broader changes in the Middle East that will impact American interests.

Recent terrorist attacks in Israel appear localized. Commentators rightly note that Jerusalem traditionally is a flash point of tensions when the holidays of Ramadan, Easter and Passover coincide, as they did this year. The lone wolf nature of the attacks this month are a stark contrast to the 4,000 rocket attacks fired from Gaza into Israel last May. Moreover, some of the attacks this time were not claimed by the usual suspects – Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

With so much else going on in the world, why should Americans care who prays at which holy site? Even more so since, as it appears, Israel has so far been effective at disrupting and responding swiftly.

Having just returned from ten days in and around Jerusalem visiting holy sites, here are my impressions, leading up to the anniversary of Israel’s independence.

The local appearance of the attacks belies the dangerous dynamics that do indeed appear to be developing across the region. ISIS, which has not been responsible for an attack in Israel since 2016 and has a small footprint in the country, claimed two of the attacks over the last two months. Although rockets lobbed at Israel last week from Lebanon were fired by Palestinian militias rather than Hezbollah, two drones were launched into Israel, signifying a more strategic approach and validating Israel’s concerns about Hezbollah’s increasing use of drone technology. Hamas, meanwhile, has been expanding its network in Jerusalem and exploiting the confluence of religious holidays to build credibility and popular support.

With the White House announcement that President Biden will visit Israel at the invitation of Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “over the coming months” – his first to the country as president, and his first to the region since the start of his presidency – the following are two troubling related developments:

First, the Biden Administration is reportedly still weighing the partial de-listing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s recent call for a meeting “as soon as possible” to advance the deal talks. Continued concessions to Iran will embolden its proxies.

Second, we may be seeing a return to the fruitless “peace process” dynamics which preceded the Abraham Accords, as evidenced by Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) jointly calling on Israel to end the violence. Additionally, the King of Jordan pushed President Biden to end the violence in Jerusalem by addressing Palestinian statehood.

It would be wise for President Biden to visit Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies during or before his visit to Israel, sending a message that the Abraham Accords should be used as the path forward to resolving tensions. Today’s violence in Jerusalem should not justify restoring the “peace process” approach – characterized by offers of territory to Palestinians in return for empty promises of cessation of violence but which, invariably, led to terrorist attacks. But Jordan’s mediation appears headed in this direction.

It is reasonable to assume there will be no significant action by the United States on this issue before President Biden’s visit. Palestinian violence may grow and evolve until that visit, particularly given reports of regional governments reaching out to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to mediate a de-escalation.

What will be important to look out for is any discussion about trading territory for security guarantees, and whether Israel’s neighbors – Egypt and Jordan, and Israel’s new partners in the Gulf –step in to mediate. That may indicate whether the pre-Abraham Accords “peace process” approach is re-emerging which, as mentioned earlier, spells a tragic sequence of events.

The four years leading up to the signing of the Abraham Accords were characterized by bold American action in standing with its friends in the region and aggressively confronting Iran. This gave Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain the trust needed to cement their partnership, knowing America is serious about the region’s prosperity and security.

That has sadly not been the approach of the current administration thus far, and the wave of terrorism in Israel is one result. These months leading up to his visit to Israel are President Biden’s opportunity to change that, and this should begin by stopping negotiations with Iran and demonstrating that America unequivocally stands firmly with the State of Israel.

Jacob Olidort is Director of the Center for American Security at the America First Policy Institute.

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