“Naftali Bennett’s security response is worrying”

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At least three people were killed Thursday in a shooting in Tel Aviv. This is the fourth deadly attack in Israel in less than three weeks. Enough to fear an outbreak of violence as the country celebrates both Ramadan and Passover.

The streets of Tel Aviv, Israel, were the scene of scenes of chaos on Thursday April 7. A man, a Palestinian from the West Bank, opened fire on Dizengoff Street in the heart of the city, killing at least three people. He was eventually killed by security forces after a manhunt lasting several hours.

This attack is the fourth to occur in the country in less than three weeks. The dark streak began on March 22 when an Israeli-born Bedouin stabbed and rammed four people to death in the southern city of Beersheba. On March 27, two Israeli Arab cousins ​​opened fire in the coastal town of Hadera. Quickly, the two investigations put forward links between the attackers and the Islamic State group (OEI).

The last two attacks, on March 29 in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Thursday, were perpetrated by two Palestinians from Jenin, in the occupied West Bank. A territory considered a stronghold of Palestinian armed factions.

In total, these four attacks caused the death of at least 14 people. The toll makes it the worst wave of attacks since the Knife Intifada, a series of stabbing attacks that killed around 270 people, Israelis and Palestinians, in 2015 and 2016.

Faced with this violence, the government of Naftali Bennett responded firmly, announcing on Friday that it would give “carte blanche” to the security forces to “defeat” this “new wave of terror”.

Hugh Lovatt, specialist in the Middle East at the European Council on External Relations, located in London, returns for France 24 to the origin of these attacks. According to him, they are part of a “cycle of violence” that has been going on for years in the region.

France 24: how do you explain the increase in attacks over the past three weeks in Israel ?

Hugh Lovatt : there are several factors that can explain this situation and it is quite difficult, at this stage, to determine if one of them has been predominant. Presumably, it is a combination of individual, local and religious reasons.

The March 22 attack was perpetrated by an Israeli Bedouin in the Negev region. However, this area has been the scene of a conflict with the government for several months. The Bedouins are demanding the recognition of certain villages that the State would like to move. Impossible to know what was really triggering, but this context certainly plays a role.

Similarly, it is difficult to establish the precise motivations of the Palestinian attackers, but the causes of their anger can be multiple: the colonization of the West Bank continues and there are about fifteen Palestinians killed in various circumstances, whether in Jerusalem or in the West Bank since the beginning of the year. Moreover, the attackers are from the Jenin region in the northern West Bank, a stronghold of the resistance. Repeated attacks by Israeli forces inevitably have an impact on public opinion. If we add an individual factor to it – being humiliated when crossing the border or being refused access somewhere, for example – this can ignite the powder.

In Beer Sheva and Hadera, the attackers are linked to the Islamic State group. Yet the last attack claimed by the group in the region dates back to 2017. What does it represent today in the region and can this portend a resurgence? ?

In reality, the attackers in question are radicalized individuals who are inspired by the ideology of the Islamic State group and who identify with this movement. But according to the various elements available to us, they did not receive any outside help. So, no, I don’t see these attacks as evidence of an IS resurgence in the region.

You should know that the group is not totally absent in the region, but it is a very marginal player. It is also completely excluded that these attacks are the result of any alliance between IS and Palestinian movements. For good reason, the Palestinian groups have no interest in seeing IS emerge in the region. On the side of Hamas, it’s the same thing. IS is considered an enemy force.

In short, everyone – Israel, the Palestinian authorities and Hamas – are working to fight against IS expansion in the region. The only place where the Islamist group can find allies is in Gaza, and that remains very limited.

Naftali Bennett’s government lost its majority in parliament, the Knesset, on Wednesday. Could these various attacks favor a return of Benjamin Netanyahu to power?

Sure. Already because this series of attacks will clearly gain in importance in public opinion. Especially since that of Thursday took place in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv, in a very busy artery, the day before the weekend.

It should be remembered that, during the twelve years he was in power, Benjamin Netanyahu always positioned himself as a protector of the Israeli state and he often boasted of his security assets. By ricochet effect, these attacks therefore give the impression of a security failure for the Naftali Bennett coalition. We know that other members of Bennett’s coalition are reluctant to change sides. These events can therefore give them the impetus. It is not by chance that the latter reacted very firmly on Friday, giving carte blanche to the security forces.

In 2021, clashes during this period of Ramadan had led to eleven days of war between Hamas and Israel. Do you fear that these attacks will lead to a further escalation of tensions in the region? ?

In my view, these attacks are not surprising. They are part of a cycle of violence that has been going on for years where the attacks come in waves and the tension subsides on its own after a few weeks. This is just proof that the regional status quo does not work in the long term.

In this specific case, everything is indeed also exacerbated by the arrival of the Ramadan period, a time always conducive to tension. But in my opinion, the main danger is that these attacks lead to others, in a sort of terrorist mimicry, until the situation calms down on its own.

Last year, Hamas went to war precisely because it wanted to get out of this status quo. This time he has no will to escalate, he is weakened and strategically lost. Admittedly, he and Islamic Jihad welcomed Thursday’s attack, but they generally remained in the background. And Mahmoud Abbas himself condemned the attacks, which is a rare occurrence.

However, Naftali Bennett’s security response worries me. He decided to limit travel between the West Bank and Israel. If he goes even further, and denies them access to the Al-Aqsa mosque in the middle of Ramadan, this could, on the other hand, accentuate regional tensions and set fire to the powder.

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