Jerusalem Bombings Test Netanyahu Even Before He Takes Office

Netanyahu's potential partners are already fanning the flames, but the incoming PM knows that reality is more complex ■ Jerusalem attacks bear hallmarks of relatively skilled terror cell

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Site of Jerusalem bombing in the Givat Shaul neighborhood in Jerusalem, on Wednesday.
Site of Jerusalem bombing in the Givat Shaul neighborhood in Jerusalem, on Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The double bombing that took place in Jerusalem on Wednesday carries the hallmarks of a relatively skilled terror cell. Someone had to plan the attack in advance: gather intelligence, prepare the bombs, place them in separate bus stops, leave without being caught – and then remotely activate the devices within a short period of time.

This is not the work of a lone terrorist, and it is doubtful this is the work of a new local group like Nablus' Lions Den. It wouldn't come as a surprise if it turns out that it was a cell from East Jerusalem, as of factors such as freedom of movement and familiarity with the sites targeted, which perhaps received assistance and financial aid from elsewhere.

The two bombings stir old, painful memories. In the last several decades, no incidents have been as traumatic for Israelis as the bus bombing during the second intifada in the early 2000s. These were mostly suicide attacks, involving bigger, more lethal explosive devices.

The suicide attacks receded as that intifada waned, and have been mostly replaced with local, more improvised initiatives. The last time Jerusalem experienced a bus bombing was April 2016, when a Hamas terrorist apparently activated by mistake a bomb he was wearing. 20 bus passengers were wounded.

Whoever chose the scene of the attack on Wednesday morning – a Jerusalem bus stop – is aware of the historical baggage that comes with it. The threat of a more severe escalation of violence, a continuation of the wave of terror that began in March but has since diminished, casts a shadow over Israel’s political processes as well.

These terror attacks are being carried out during a transitional period; one government, whose members lost the election, has one foot out the door, and the new government has yet to be formed.

The bus station in Jerusalem where a bomb went off, on Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t taken the wheel yet, but his future coalition partners are already pouring fuel on the fire. The likely incoming public security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, had a hard time shaking off his old habits and ran to the scene of the attack, but found there that, for the first time in his life, he had to provide answers rather than just point fingers.

The solutions he suggested relevant were somewhat less helpful: assassinating terrorists, locking down the village from which the perpetrators came and “no more summer camp in prisons.” The man pretending to be the security mastermind of Ben-Gvir’s party, MK Zvika Fogel – a brigadier general in the reserves – had an even more prudent idea. “Do we have planes? Missiles? Artillery cannons? Tanks? Let’s use them,” he said in an interview with 103FM radio.

Netanyahu knows that the circumstances are a bit more complicated, and that the leaders of the defense establishment have long been wary of a broad military operation in the northern West Bank. The frequent arrests and myriad Shin Bet investigations, they claim, are sufficient for dealing with the threat. But Netanyahu needs to throw a bone to his partners, what with the permanent tensions on the Temple Mount and Ben-Gvir’s apparent intentions to keep going there even after he is sworn in as a minister.

What has been stewing for eight months now on a low-to-medium flame is liable to boil over into a broader confrontation, due to the new combination of circumstances: the Palestinian Authority is weakening, local terror cells are cropping up and a purely right-wing government is about to come to power in Israel.

About 30 Israelis and more than 140 Palestinians have been killed in terror attacks and acts of violence since the beginning of 2022, in the West Bank and within the Green Line. Until now, we’ve seen activity on the part of lone wolf terrorists, local terror cells and more established groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In order for this to be considered an intifada, it needs another ingredient: broad populist involvement from the Palestinians, which is, in the meantime, absent. Israel has managed to prevent this, as in most cases it warns that it will impose collective punishments in the West Bank. Adding Jerusalem to the picture, and especially if suicide bombings become a factor, may tip the scales in the future. The main hurdle to this outcome is the considerable ability the Shin Bet and the military have shown in thwarting attacks.

A "Fauda" like incident in Jenin

In the meantime, there was a strange incident in the West Bank, one that seems like a scrapped storyline from the next season of “Fauda.” Two young Druze men from northern Israel entered the Jenin area on Tuesday, and were involved in a car crash. One of them was evacuated to Israel via helicopter, but his friend, the 17-year-old Tiran Ferro, remained in a Jenin hospital in critical condition. That is where a gang of armed Palestinians burst in, according to family members who came to be with him, forcibly disconnected him from the ventilator despite his relatives’ protest and made off with the body.

Frantic contacts between Israeli, PA and UN representatives began that night to return Ferro’s body. It was loaded into a Red Crescent ambulance early Wednesday morning, but armed men returned and snatched it once again. Ferro’s father and uncle are blaming the Palestinians for murdering him in the hospital; the military is not yet certain whether the boy was still alive when the event took place. Ben-Gvir, who is less concerned with fact-checking, has already announced that Ferro was killed in an act of terror.

Armed Palestinians in Nablus on Tuesday.Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP

This incident has roused rage from Israel’s Druze community and calls for action, and rightly so. Hamas started this necrophilic trafficking of corpses when it refused to return the remains of two IDF soldiers who were killed in the Gaza Strip in the 2014 war.

But Israel, too, has waded into it since, when it collected dozens of bodies of Palestinians who carried out terror attacks or were involved in attacks, even though every defense official knows that it has no benefit.

This incident shows, once again, how weak the Palestinian Authority is in Jenin, which is ruled in practice by armed gangs. But without a speedy conclusion to this abuse of the boy’s family, it seems that there will be another escalation in the northern West Bank. This time, though, it will not be centered on a person’s life, but on the remains of a teenage boy who was killed in a car accident of all things, who has done nothing to anyone.

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