The recent decrease in terror attacks, following the wave of stabbings and shootings which began last October, masks continued volatility in the West Bank and Gaza. This was the message Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman brought to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee this week. There were around 600 attacks in October 2015, declining to 103 this June. Yet Argaman emphasised that the violence could break out again at any instant, particularly if triggered by tensions surrounding the Temple Mount.
He revealed that the Shin Bet had foiled 11 suicide bombings, 10 kidnapping attempts and over 60 shooting attacks from January to June. The shifting balance of power between rival Palestinian factions is a key determinant of Palestinian violence. The dwindling authority of Mahmoud Abbas’ administration has created a political vacuum that Hamas has sought to exploit. Argaman told the Knesset that the group was “unrelentingly trying to destabilise Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Yet Hamas cannot retain control in the Gaza strip, where recent rocket attacks, including one that landed on an empty nursery, were the product of other Islamist militant cells. Abbas himself remains an important figure. Shin Bet analysis showed that when the PA President denounced terror attacks, it had a discernible effect on calming tensions, whie the absence of clear denunciations led to a rise in violence.
Argaman called for more frequent and ardent condemnations from the PA leader, whilst still noting the difference between Abbas – who opposes political violence – and his predecessor Yasser Arafat, who, Argaman said, “took small uprisings and turned them into big ones.”
The weight attached to President Abbas’ words fits in to the broader understanding of the so-called ‘knife intifada’ developed by Israeli intelligence analysts over the previous months. The violence is disorganised and erratic, frequently a spur-of-the-moment decision, youth-dominated, and inspired by social media, lacking the cohesion of previous uprisings.