Foreign Affairs

The New Battle for Jerusalem

As Winston Churchill would have put it, a new Battle for Jerusalem has begun. A new front in the global war on terror has opened up, and both the U.S. government and the American media have been blind to the evidence staring them in the face.
 
Some 23 people were injured July 25 when Ghassan Abu Tir, 22, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, drove a bulldozer into a bus on King David Street before being shot dead by a security guard. The attack came only three weeks after a far deadlier attack on July 2 when Hussam Tayir Dwayat, 30, another Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, drove a bulldozer into a line of people waiting at a bus stop on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. Three people were killed and more than 40 injured.
 
These bare facts have been widely reported. The latest attack got especially wide coverage because it took place only a short distance from the hotel where Sen. Barack Obama arrived to stay only a few hours later.
 
The Western media obviously pointed out the similarity in those two attacks. But it didn’t go any further. The general impression has been given that these terrorists were seething with personal grief, frustration and rage and that they acted spontaneously. Who can possibly blame the poor, misguided idealists?
 
The reality is very different: Both attacks have to be seen in the context of a slow but steady escalation in terrorist violence against Israeli civilians and security forces over the past few months within Jerusalem itself. One of the first and by far the worst to date was the March 6 massacre of eight Orthodox Jewish students in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the most prominent religious-nationalist Ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious seminary in Israel, by Ala Abu Dhaim, also from East Jerusaelm. Are we starting to see a pattern here?
 
Indeed we are.  Let us count the ways.
 
First, the attacks all take place within Western Jewish Jerusalem or close to it. This is especially striking, as Jewish Israelis and visiting tourists — especially Americans — in Arab East Jerusalem might be expected to be far easier and softer targets for unpremeditated "rage" attacks. But they haven’t been targeted. Israeli civilians in West Jerusalem and their security forces were.
 
Second, the attacks are all carried out by Palestinians who are not from Gaza or the West Bank but who already live in Arab East Jerusalem. Abu Tir, who carried out Tuesday’s attack, had an Israeli identification card.
 
Third, most of the attacks do not appear random and instead show clear evidence of premeditation and sophisticated strategic and political planning that the individuals who carry them out had never previously shown any interest in or capability to initiate.
 
For example, the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva has long been recognized as the ideological driving force behind the Jewish religious-settler movement to settle and keep control of the West Bank as a means of speeding up the coming of the Messiah.
 
Fourth, the attacks were not carried out by idealists or long-time political activists, but overwhelmingly by criminals who had a long history of estrangement from their own law-abiding Palestinian communities. Khaled Abu Toameh reported in the Jerusalem Post on July 24 that Dwayat, who carried out the July 2 bulldozer massacre at the bus stop, had even lived with a Jewish girl friend. But he was also a drug addict and convicted rapist. Abu Tir, who perpetrated Tuesday’s attack near Sen. Obama’s hotel, was also a convicted criminal believed to be involved in drug dealing. Abu Dhaim, who killed the yeshiva students, was also described as a petty criminal.
 
Why did they do it? Abu Toameh cited Palestinian sources as saying they "did not rule out the possibility that Muslim fundamentalists linked to Hamas or the men’s relatives had pushed them to carry out the attacks as part of a plan aimed at ‘cleansing’ their names."
Recruiting known criminals to perform terror attacks is an established modus operandi of Hamas and similar groups. As Abu Toameh pointed out, "During the first and second intifadas, various Palestinian groups succeeded in recruiting Palestinian criminals to carry out terrorist attacks. These criminals included thieves, rapists and drug dealers."

Fifth, the July 25 attack not only occurred on the day Sen. Obama was in Jerusalem, it came before he addressed the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to pledge his support for the Jewish state. Carrying out the attack so close to his hotel can be seen as an implied threat to Obama that he could be personally targeted if he continued to support Israel.
 
Sixth, the July 25 attack was certainly timed to negate the morale boost the Israeli people in general,and the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem might be expected to take from Obama’s speech.  
 
Seventh, the new attacks are of strategic significance because they are able to bypass the security fence erected by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
 
As I document in my recent book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East, that fence (It isn’t a wall or "barrier", whatever the know-nothings in the media claim. I’ve helicoptered along it and at least 95 percent of it really is a transparent, regular old high fence) played the decisive role in halting the suicide bomber onslaught of the Second Palestinian Intifada.
 
That campaign of terror cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives when late PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat unleashed it after rejecting the concessions offered to him by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the Camp David II peace conference eight years ago. Since Sharon and his Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s current transportation minister, implemented the fence policy, tourism, investment and Israelis’ internal sense of security have all revived.
 
Being able to organize a new terror offensive from within the defensive shield of the fence threatens to negate all of Sharon’s successes and deal a new body blow to Israel’s tourist economy. For any guerrilla/terrorist organization with a sophisticated political dimension — and Hamas is extremely sophisticated — that would be an achievement of the highest order.
 
Eighth, the new attacks started, curiously enough, after Hamas finally agreed under intense international pressure and the threat of massive Israeli retaliation to a cease-fire. Specifically, it agreed to stop its continual bombardment of low-tech but still potentially lethal Qassem very short range rockets against the Israeli development town of Sderot (where, incidentally, Obama posed for another photo opportunity).
 
But honoring that cease-fire cost Hamas big among its young and growing militant constituency both in Gaza and in the West Bank, where PA President Mahmoud Abbas, at least in theory, still rules. It would surely benefit Hamas hugely if it could show the wider Arab world and its own core Palestinian constituency – with a wink and a nod and plausible deniability – that it was still active, and, indeed, had gone back on the strategic offensive for the first time since it was stymied by Sharon, Mofaz and their fence.
 
The Israeli government is not blind to the new pattern of violence that is now shaping up. It has sought to publicize not just the number of the attacks, but also the broader picture behind them. Israeli newspapers, including the English-language Jerusalem Post, have also been energetic and enterprising in keeping up with the breaking story.

But Katie Couric and her fellow fearless network anchors haven’t told you a new Battle of Jerusalem has begun? What a surprise.