Sunday, Feb. 14, will go down as a landmark day in the terror campaign the Palestinians have been waging against Israel for five months. It marked the latest, deliberately ramped up phase. After advancing from rocks, stabbings, car rammings and teen attacks, through the stage of loners to gangs of two and three, it moved up this week to shooting and explosive devices. Four Palestinian shooting attacks took place in 12 hours, most using knock-off Carl Gustav submachine guns turned out by illegal foundries in Nablus.
The latest attacks were deliberately planned to maximize casualties amomg Israeli police officers and soldiers. In Jenin it started with an ambush: Two 15-year old boys threw rocks at a group of Israeli reservists, who gave chase. One of the fleeing boys then pulled out a submachine gun, turned round and sprayed the pursuers, who returned the fire, killing the boys.
Using another tactic, at almost the same time, a Palestinian drew a submachine gun during a search at a checkpoint between the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa and Bethlehem. Before the Border Guards police manning the checkpoint were harmed, they shot the gunman dead.
That evening, gunfire from the Palestinian village of Jilazon struck buildings at the Jewish community of Beit El near Ramallah. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
This new terror trend played out shortly before midnight Sunday at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. A 20-year old Palestinian approached a group of Border Guards as they were changing shifts, He carried a suspicious looking bag. When ordered to halt for a search, he pulled a Karl Gustav submarine gun out of the bag and started shooting. The police were faster and shot him dead. But during the melee, a second Palestinian positioned unnoticeably 100 meters away opened fire on the police He too was shot dead before causing harm.
He was later discovered to be a Palestinian policeman, a member of the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus. He was the third Palestinian cop known to have taken part in a terrorist operation.
For the past three weeks, ever since the combined shooting and explosives attack on Jan. 25 in Beit Horon next to Route 443, in which Shlomit Kirgman was murdered, it has been clear that the Palestinians have shifted from loners to teams of two or three terrorists and upgraded their weapons from knives to guns and explosives.
The current stage holds even greater menace because, even though a guiding hand is evident, Israel’s intelligence and security services are still unable to provide an advance alert of imminent attacks.
The IDF chief of staff, Lieut. Gen. Gady Eisenkot, admitted on Jan. 19 that the intelligence networks had not provided a single advance warning of any attack. On Feb. 9, he offered an explanation: “The situation today is very complex with no central direction. Terrorists don’t have to depend on accomplices and don’t need an organizer, a planner or a laboratory for making explosives. All they need to do is snatch a knife from their kitchen.
Five days later, it is obvious that this theory no longer washes. Not every Palestinian can pick up a Karl Gustav in his kitchen. Someone is handing them out with ammo to specific addresses. The recipients are also undergoing some sort of training in their use. In that case, how are the preparations for imminent attacks being missed by the Shin Bet?
The announcement last week of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s choice of Nadav Argaman as the next Shin Bet Director after Yoram Cohen raised some eyebrows among leading lights in intelligence and the defense community, debkafile’s intelligence sources report. This is not because he was not qualified or suitable for the post, or even undeserving of the lavish praise heaped upon him with the announcement, but because some doubted that he possessed the right set of qualities to meet the special needs of this particularly difficult time.
While Argaman, currently the Shin Bet’s Dep. Director, is one of the intelligence community’s top operations experts, he is no “Arabist.” The first director who is not fluent in Arabic, he is not at home in the ins and outs of dealing with Palestinians.
The former Shin Bet Deputy Director, Roni Alsheikh has just those attributes. But he was recently moved out of line by being appointed Police Commissioner. In the view of security insiders, the roles should ideally have been reversed. The right man for the prime task of beating Palestinian terror would have been Alsheikh at the helm of the Shin Bet, with Argaman serving as police chief.