Assessing the Jerusalem Attack

The attack on a religious school in Jerusalem yesterday was the first major terror attack in that city since April 2006. There are several aspects of the attack that are worth noting.

First it is a reminder that Palestinian terrorists remain capable, perhaps at a much lower level than at the height of the al-Aqsa Intifada, but deadly capable nonetheless.

Second, the attacks came at a crucial time and place. The location was the Mercaz Harav, a leading religious school associated with Israel’s religious Zionist movement. The attack came both just as peace talks were re-starting also just after an extensive Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip had ended. The attack was celebrated in Gaza as revenge for the Gaza operations.

Third, the attack was reminder of how terrorists adapt when a particular mode of operation is denied them. With increasing difficulty in mounting a suicide bombing, the perpetrators of this attack turned to firearms. This is an old story. After the Entebbe rescue, the PLO dropped airline hijackings from their repertoire and tried to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon. About two decades later, when Hezbollah was having difficulty infiltrating Israel, they sought to infiltrate European members into Israel as tourists to carry out bombings. The rockets from Gaza are due to the difficulties of infiltrating Israel from Gaza and the lack of Israeli targets within Gaza since Israel dismantled its Gaza settlements.

This is not to argue that counter-terror measures are inherently pyrrhic. In many cases denying a terrorist group a tactic is a worthy achievement. But it is a reminder that effective terrorist groups are formidable organizations that are capable of analysis and adaptation.

Finally, there was the claim by the previously unknown “Galilee Freedom Battalions – the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Martyrs of Gaza” broadcast on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite TV channel as a tag line running across the bottom of the screen with no further comment or elaboration.

If this attack was Hezbollah’s response to the assassination of Mughniyah it is only the beginning – more can be expected. Hezbollah has been building capabilities in the West Bank and Gaza as well as links with Hamas and Islamic Jihad for over a decade, so the capability to organize such an attack may exist. If the claim originated with Palestinians it shows the extent to which the Palestinians are identifying with Hezbollah. This is also a worrisome sign.

The inclusion of the Galilee, northern Israel, might imply a Lebanese interest – in which case the claim might have been Lebanese kids sending al-Manar an email and cheering that they got on TV.

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