The reemergence of violence in Israel has been a nightmare for many Israelis
By Joshua Tartakovsky, October 21, 2015
Palestinians in the West Bank are accustomed to being occupied on a regular basis. For them the difference between one day or another is the difference between the degrees of heat to be found in burning flames but not in their very existence. Israelis, on the other hand, have been exposed to unexpected violent outbursts of stabbings that can come from anywhere as lone Palestinians attacked Israelis with knives. The degree of cruelty needed to stab a civilian bystander from a close range has left many Israelis in shock and panic. So far, the youngest stabber was 13 years old. Needless to say, Jerusalemites have been looking over their shoulder more than once and several central streets of the city have been empty for several days.
The fact that many of the stabbers were Israeli Arabs who attack Israelis within Israel’s formal borders, rather than Palestinians from the West Bank, places Israel in a very difficult position. In previous uprisings, it has been all too convenient for Israel to blame Palestinian Authority President Abbas for an outbreak of violence and to demand an end to official incitement. In fact, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has been often justified in terms of security. What is one to do, however, when Arab citizens of Israel who reside throughout the country, engage in stabbings of civilians and unleash a wave of terror? These attackers are citizens or residents of Israel proper, not Palestinians in the West Bank. How may such attacks be stopped?
Israel’s response, so far, has been to overwhelm Jerusalem, a city where most of the stabbings took place, with 300 soldiers and to place checkpoints at the entrances to Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This may provide a temporary solution in restoring order and putting an end to panic. A given stabber may now be eliminated within seconds due to the large presence of soldiers. However the fact that the capital city is swarming with soldiers cannot possibly be good for tourism or for the sense of ‘normalcy’ any country would like to convey and suggests that matters are quite dire. A Palestinian Israeli who wishes to carry a stabbing attack may be able to do so anyway, precisely since he is a citizen of Israel and can move around freely. It is also difficult to sustain such a large number of soldiers in a given area over a long period of time and guards cannot be placed at every corner.
The phenomenon of stabbings of Israeli civilians as the main weapon is a game changer. If Israel in the past claimed that its occupation of the West Bank is justified on the basis of security, the fact that many of the stabbers were Israeli Arabs actually renders this argument less relevant as attacks can take place in Tel Aviv by citizens who live there. In light of this, from a realist perspective alone, it may make more sense for Israel to ‘bring Israel to the West Bank’ by annexing the West Bank and granting Palestinians Israeli citizenship. This would allow for the law to be carried out evenly throughout the West Bank and Israel since at the moment two separate law systems operate. However, what is also possible and in fact more likely, is that Israel will choose to ‘bring the West Bank to Israel’ and place the military in charge of Israeli Arab areas. This will further inflame tensions and blur the distinction between the West Bank and Israel, resulting in a radicalization of many Arab Israelis and increasing violence and subsequent crackdowns.
Israel may have no real remedy to the stabbing phenomenon. As I wrote in November 2014, “the new intifada or uprising, witnessed in recent days, seems to be characterized by its unpredictable nature: attacks can be carried out at any given moment at any location, inside Israel or the West Bank, by loners operating on the loose who are not acting on behalf of a particular Palestinian organization who are using a car or a knife as a weapon of choice… Israel may face a wave of terrorism for which it has no sufficient response besides inflicting collective punishment on Palestinians due to its frustration”.
While Israel has no perfect military response to halt attacks, peace seems more distant than ever. The recent wave of violence has resulted in even greater distrust between Israelis and Palestinians. For Israelis, violent stabbings and Palestinians ramming cars into civilians indicate that Palestinians are brutal and violent and therefore cannot be trusted. For Palestinians the fact that Israeli soldiers shot Palestinians within seconds if not minuets even before any action was taken suggests that Israelis are intent on murdering Palestinians in cold blood while circumventing a proper judicial process. Israelis complained that Palestinians have posted videos of stabbers being shot while failing to mention that they were shot after they attacked others or that Palestinians falsely said that Palestinian youth were killed, while in fact they have been wounded and received treatment in Israeli hospitals. On the other hand, Palestinians have pointed out that Israelis killed suspects even though there were occasions when suspects did not carry knives, did not attack others and could be arrested peacefully. For Palestinians, this indicates that Israel does not attach a high value to Palestinian lives. Palestinians also argued that that resistance to Israel’s occupation is to be expected, whatever form it may take. Palestinian Israelis have been perhaps as fearful as Jewish Israelis in wandering the streets of Jerusalem, knowing that making a physical movement in the wrong direction may be misinterpreted leading to them being shot.
Recent attacks, then, actually indicate that Israel may find itself more in the corner than it dares to admit. US President Obama has not been keen on aiding Israel on the diplomatic front due to his skirmishes with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. In the EU, calls have grown to boycott Israeli goods, not just goods from the occupied West Bank. However, Israel has shown increasing flexibility in other fronts. There have been signs of change when it comes to Syria. In the past, Israel has been aiding al Nusra in Syria against Syrian President Assad, and attacked posts of the Syrian Arab Army in retaliation for rockets fired into the Golan, although these actions were taken by rebel groups fighting the government. But Israel has been recently providing Russia with intelligenceon terrorist locations in Syria and has been more constrained in its ability to launch airstrikes in Syria, following criticism by Russian President Putin.
Russia’s targeting of terrorists in Syria may in fact present a potential escape route for Israel from its international isolation . Since the campaign in Syria, President Putin has become an increasingly popular figure winning approval from many in Syria, Iraq and the region as a whole. If in the future Russian will succeed in Syria, it will become an increasingly powerful force in the region and may also have a say as far as Israel and Palestine is concerned. With the danger of ISIL becoming the main threat to stability in the Middle East and the US becoming either irrelevant or disrespected in the eyes of many locals, Israel may need to shift away from its extreme reliance on the US and join the Russia-Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis against ISIL. Such a move may seem more than unlikely at the moment, yet since the US has at the very least turned a blind eye to ISIL and has done little to stop its advance, and due to the fact that the danger of ISIL spreading may pose a danger to the survival of Israelis in the region, Israel may realize that the interests of the US in the region are at a direct divergence with its own interests, and may need to make drastic adaptations to the new realities.
The fact that Israel has been sharing intelligence with Russia while the US has failed to do so, reveals that Israel may be attempting to gradually shift away from the US, although they remain deeply tied at all levels. The new collaboration with Russia may be due to a newfound prgamatism regarding new developments, an understanding that it is wiser to keep Russia as a partner or simply a realization that Israeli interests may no longer converge with US interests. In his book, The Global Minotaur, Former Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis made a strong case for the argument that the US’ intentional strategy has been to create chaos and destabilization around the world in order to secure its hegemony as the world’s safest haven for investment. Thierry Meyssan argued the same particularly regarding the Middle East. In light of the fact that the US government destroyed state infrastructure in Iraq, turned Libya over jihadists and is arming and supporting rebels in Syria associated with al Qaeda, it seems more than likely that the US would like to see the collapse of secular Arab nation-state in the Middle East and allow for a take-over by jihadists instead. The problem with ISIL and other jihadist groups, however, is that they may not stop at a particular point but will seek to spread, first to Jordan and then to Israel. In light of these existential challenges, American and Israeli interests may diverge. After all, ISIL may pose a future threat to Israel, placed only kilometers away, while it is nowhere near US borders. The US may not like Israel’s collaboration with Russia, but Israel may want to be on Russia’s side after a future success in Syria and even have improved relations with a victorious President Assad.
When it comes to Palestine, Israel is finding itself more and more in the corner, isolated by international pressure and faced with terrorism at home it cannot easily subdue. Russia’s anti-terrorist operations in Syria, however, and US declining influence in the region, present an opportunity for Israel to realign itself with the axis of resistance. This would entail moving away from Saudi Arabia and jihadist groups and aligning with Russia and Iran. This would also allow Russia, aided by Iran, to step in and impose in and impose a solution. After all, it is highly unrealistic to expect that Israelis and Palestinians will reach a solution on their own. Two stumbling blocks remain, however. The first is Israel’s heavy dependence on immense US aid to which it has become addicted and the second is the difficulties related to reaching a sufficient solution to the Palestinian question which will provide Palestinians with justice and Israelis with security. If Israel makes the bold and for now still far fetched move of forming closer ties with Russia and even with Iran and Hezbollah, it can also be in a better position to sort issues out with the Palestinians. Russia is highly respected among Palestinians, and among one million Russian Jewish migrants and the large Israeli right-wing camp. But for now, Israel is finding itself more and more in the corner.