Why are Islamic State-linked attackers targeting Israel?

Jerusalem boosting security presence as death toll mounts amid wave of attacks

Israeli security forces keep the public away from a shooting in Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv
Israeli security forces keep onlookers away from shooting scene in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak
(Image credit: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli security forces are on high alert after a Palestinian gunman killed five people in the third such attack in just over a week.

Footage posted on social media showed the gunman firing an assault rifle at people running for cover and killing the driver of a passing car. The attack in Bnei Brak, a Jewish ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, on Tuesday night followed two similar attacks in recent days that left a further six people dead, in a surge in violence “not witnessed in years”, said Al Jazeera.

Following “emergency meetings” of political and security officials, the news site reported, “thousands of police and army reinforcements have been deployed inside Israel, as well as in the occupied West Bank, and across the border with the besieged Gaza Strip”, in a bid to prevent further bloodshed.

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‘Iron fist’

The Bnei Brak gunman, who was shot dead by police, was later identified as a 26-year-old Palestinian from a village near Jenin, in the north of the West Bank. He had previously been jailed in Israel for security-related offences.

Following the attack, in which a police officer was killed, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that “Israel is facing a wave of murderous Arab terrorism.”

In a statement ahead of an emergency meeting with his security cabinet, Bennett said: “The security forces are operating. We will fight terror with perseverance, stubbornness and an iron fist.”

Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killings, which he warned could provoke an escalation when “we are striving for stability”.

But Hamas, the Palestinian militants that govern the Gaza Strip, praised the attack, releasing a statement that said: “We express our blessing to the Tel Aviv operation.”

The visibility of security forces had been “had already been stepped up across Israel and in the West Bank in the wake of the two previous attacks”, said the BBC.

The first attack, on 22 March, was carried out by an Israeli Arab who had documented his plans to join the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and who had previously served a jail sentence in Israel for security crimes. He “drove his car into a cyclist, killing him, then stabbed three people to death outside a shopping centre in the southern city of Beersheba”, the broadcaster reported.

Five days later, on Sunday, “two other Israeli Arabs opened fire at a bus stop in the northern city of Hadera, killing two 19-year-old police officers”. IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a further five people were wounded.

All three attackers were shot dead by police.

The authorities have also detained five IS-linked suspects over the Hadera killings, which Hamas described as a “natural and legitimate response” to Israeli “crimes against our people”.

Israeli police, “in cooperation with the domestic Shin Bet security agency”, made the arrests after raids in the majority Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, France 24 reported.

Israeli leader Bennett tweeted: “A second attack by ISIS (IS) supporters inside Israel requires the security forces to quickly readapt to this new threat.”

‘Recipe for disaster’

As the death toll mounts, Israeli officials have warned repeatedly that the violence was likely to escalate further after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on Saturday.

Already a time of heightened tension between Palestinians and Israelis, Ramadan this year converges with Passover and Easter, and “each holiday means an increase in religious pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem’s Old City, with its flashpoint holy sites”, said The Times of Israel.

The US warned last month that the massing of Muslims, Jews and Christian was a “recipe for disaster in Jerusalem”.

And with IS claiming responsibility for two of the three latest attacks, questions are mounting about whether IS is “targeting” the entire country, and whether other “extremist groups and those inspired by IS may now decide to increasingly target Israel” too, said The Jerusalem Post’s Middle East affairs analyst Seth J. Frantzman.

“Historically, IS has not appeared to target Israel,” he wrote. But “attacks carried out by IS and other extremists generally come in waves, sometimes involving copycats”, prompting fears that other groups “will try to exploit” the current wave of attacks.

Haaretz’s senior military correspondent Amos Harel reported that none of the terror events in recent weeks “were preceded by intelligence warnings”. Israeli security officials appear to be “groping in the dark” for signs of further terrorist activity, he continued.

A “copycat attack” would be “Israel’s worst fear come true”, but Israel may already be facing “a genuine terrorist onslaught” and a serious “security crisis”.

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