image Photo: Elad Malka (IMoD), Flash90

Israel bolsters security amid terror wave

The beefing up of defensive measures comes amid a fourth terror attack by Arab and Palestinian assailants in Israel over the past ten days.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

A 28-year-old Israeli civilian was seriously wounded around 9 AM this morning after being stabbed multiple times by a Palestinian terrorist wielding a screwdriver on a bus near a Jewish settlement of Elazar in the West Bank.

The assailant was identified as 30-year-old Palestinian resident of Bethlehem, who was shot dead by another passenger according to a statement from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

In the sharpest spike of terrorism in years, a Bedouin Arab murdered four people in a stabbing and car ramming attack in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on 22 March, followed by the deadly shooting of two victims by two Arab gunmen in the central city of Hadera on 27 March. Israeli authorities said all of the assailants, who were killed during their deadly attacks, were loyal to Islamic State terror group. Five other people were shot to death in Bnei Brak on 29 March in an attack that was not claimed by any armed group, though residents of the West Bank village of Ya’bad linked the assailant to the Fatah party lead by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

This morning’s attack followed dozens of operations launched by Israeli security services throughout the country and the West Bank districts of Judea and Samaria.

The Israeli Border Police “YAMAS” Special Operations Unit arrested nine Arab residents of Jerusalem suspected of arms smuggling and confiscated a trove of weapons. The Palestinian city of Jenin and nearby village of Ya’bad were the chief focus of the military’s operations.

Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the IDF troops during the arrest raids. In the subsequent exchange of gunfire, one Israeli soldier was injured, and was evacuated to a hospital for medical attention in light condition, said a military statement. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, four Palestinians were killed and another fourteen were wounded.

The increased operational activity follows the signing of an executive order by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz providing a legal framework to conduct administrative detentions of anyone suspected of terror activities.

“We are implementing defensive and offensive actions in order to thwart the next acts of terror, as much as possible. From an operational perspective, the IDF under the command of the Chief of General Staff, in conjunction with our additional security apparatuses, are concentrating on intelligence efforts and will engage in preventative arrests and (other) actions against terrorists and their collaborators wherever they may be,” declared the Defense Chief, confirming, “many hundreds were arrested during the immediate period and dozens of terror attacks were prevented.”

“These will not be the last” such measures, he said, adding, “If need be, we will immediately draft thousands of reservists who will flood the streets alongside our police officers and will act in every place where operational activities are necessary.” Vowing that any necessary action will be taken to “break this wave of terrorism,” he underscored that, “by power, wisdom and responsibility, we will retain calm and stability; we will act with foresight in accordance with our security needs.”

“The State of Israel finds itself under a murderous terror attack; as in the past, the perpetrators of terror will face determined security forces, professional and proactive; they (terrorists) will face resilient civilians. The State of Israel experienced in the past wars and operations, including waves of terror, and also this time around – we will prevail,” he stressed.

The new directives were adopted after a situation assessment Lt. Gen. Gantz convened with IDF Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, Central Command Chief Major General Yehuda Fox and other senior security leaders. (See Full Remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz below).

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a taped statement to update the public on a series of additional decisions by the Security Cabinet last night. (See the Full Set of Directives Ordered by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett below).

“As of now, our forces have carried out more than 200 investigation or arrest operations,” stated the Israeli leader, adding that, “The home of the terrorist in Ya’bad has already been mapped for demolition – and we are working to demolish it as soon as possible in order to create deterrence. My directive is to be in contact with everyone who has had a previous connection with ISIS, simply to go to these people and carry out whatever action necessary, including preventive arrest.”

He also stressed the unfortunate necessity for all licensed Israelis to carry personal firearms to ensure public safety over the coming period in accordance with security assessments that additional acts of terror are likely to occur ahead of and during observance of Ramadan, set to begin this weekend. Authorities estimated that some 400,000 Muslims will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount over the month-long holiday.

“As of now, soldiers in mandatory, career and reserve service, from rifle-level 3 and up, will carry their weapons home from their bases. We are also currently evaluating a larger framework to involve civilian volunteers who want to help and be of assistance. What is expected of you, citizens of Israel? Alertness and responsibility. Open your eyes. Whoever has a license to carry a weapon, this is the time to carry it,” he urged.

The Israeli Security Cabinet decided not to cancel planned relief measures for Palestinians during Ramadan, despite the recent spate of terror, following warnings from defense officials that removal of the programs could further exacerbate tensions.

Israeli Foreign Minister and Alternate Premier Yair Lapid confirmed that the nations’ security forces are at their highest level of alert since Arab riots in Jerusalem during Ramadan last year triggered the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict with Gaza, which fired over 4,000 rockets at the Jewish State.

At least 1,000 additional IDF troops are being deployed to support the police, while 12 battalions will maintain routine security operations in the West Bank with two others near the Gaza Strip. In addition, the IDF announced that it will “provide the Israeli police extensive assistance, including the training of 15 companies from various special forces units that will be deployed in part in the West Bank region and in major cities according to police discretion. 3,000 additional police officers will be stationed at potential flashpoints in Jerusalem over Ramadan.

Islamist Hamas terror organization leader Ismail Haniyeh released a statement expressing “the pride of the Palestinian people and the free people of the Ummah,” a reference to the Muslim world, for the deadly terror attack in Bnei Brak – which he referred to as a “heroic operation.”

“Affirming the refusal of Palestinian generations to surrender, whatever the sacrifices,” Haniyeh proclaimed that the Palestinian people continue to brandish the so-called ‘Sword of Jerusalem.’”

Full Remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz:

“Citizens of Israel,

I would first like to express my condolences to the families of the victims of the recent attacks, and to wish a speedy recovery to those who were hurt, whether in body or soul.

The State of Israel is currently facing a murderous wave of attacks.

Just as in the past, the perpetrators of terrorism will be met with our powerful security forces. They will face resilient citizens. The State of Israel has experienced wars, operations, and waves of terror in the past – and this time too, we will overcome.

We are taking the defensive and offensive measures necessary to prevent further attacks. On the operational level, the IDF, under the leadership of the Chief of Staff, and in cooperation with other security organizations, is managing [Israel’s] intelligence effort and conducting operations and arrests of terrorists and their aides, wherever they may be.

In addition, I have instructed [the IDF] to assist the Israel Police by providing equipment, supporting the absorption of troops, and deploying combat soldiers on various missions.

This morning I also signed executive arrest warrants for Israeli residents [involved in terrorist activity], and they will not be the last.

If it will be necessary, we are prepared for the immediate recruitment of thousands of reservists who will flood the streets together with the Israel Police.  We have an excellent and determined military, brave and valued police officers, and dedicated security personnel with exceptional capabilities.

We will take all the means necessary to stop this wave of terrorism. We will restore security and stability by showing strength, wisdom and responsibility. We will act in accordance with our long-term vision and security needs.

Israeli citizens,

Our security forces are deployed in order to ensure quiet and strengthen your sense of security. We are conducting operational activities and acting responsibly – with no rage or hysteria.

We must remember – these despicable terrorists want to charge a bloody price – they want to sow fear and chaos. They seek to divide us. In this test of resilience, Israeli society will win.

Finally, I ask all Israeli citizens to continue their routine lives while being vigilant and following the instructions of our security forces. Remember that these heinous murderers want to sow fear and polarization. In response, we will remain resilience, and most importantly secure.”

Full Set of Directives Ordered by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett:

Increasing the presence of security forces and reinforcing units in the field, particularly at points of friction.

Reinforcing units along the seam line and advancing a plan to rebuild the security barrier.

Extensive counter-terror operations, especially initiated operations, among those promoting and identifying with the ISIS.

Continuation and expansion of dealing with the problem of illegal weapons in the Arab sector.

Strengthening deterrence and underscoring the losses to be incurred by those closest to the terrorist carrying out the attacks. Accordingly, it was decided to revoke work permits among those in the close circle [of the terrorists] and to move forward quickly on the demolition of homes.

Increased monitoring of incitement on social networks and the taking of appropriate actions (including by legislative changes where necessary).

Continued building up of the Israel Police and dealing with its needs. It was decided to add hundreds of positions and carry out rapid staff work for a budgetary supplement in order to allow the Israel Police to meet the challenges facing it at this time.

Alongside dealing with the internal security challenges, preparations for various escalation scenarios in the different areas will continue.

The policies of the Cabinet and the plans for action that were determined will be evaluated according to circumstances and events in the field.