For the first time since the second intifada, an Israeli government summoned the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to Jerusalem, on Oct. 13. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first assumed power in 1996, his campaign slogan was “Peres will split Jerusalem.” It caught on like wildfire, greatly damaging the electoral chances of Labor Party leader Shimon Peres while exploiting the sacredness of Jerusalem to the vast majority of Israelis wherever they might be. Netanyahu raised the status of Jerusalem to a new level, turning himself into the city’s official guardian and protector. Since then, every time the issue of peace through diplomacy makes Israeli headlines, Likud spokespeople immediately jump into action, charging that the left will partition Jerusalem. These days, Jerusalem has truly been divided, but not by the left.
In case anyone has forgotten, a truly right-wing government is in control in Israel. For the first time, the government does not contain a moderating or centrist element as in the past, such as the Labor Party (Ehud Barak) or Kadima (Tzipi Livni). Even moderate Likud ministers like Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan have disappeared from the scene. Ironically, it is a rightist government that is being forced to acknowledge that Jerusalem is, de facto, divided — into the western and the eastern, the Jewish versus the Palestinian.
After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the two parts of the city were united. With the second intifada (2000 to 2005), Israel began to build a fence to separate peripheral Palestinian neighborhoods from Jerusalem. It has now come to pass that for quite some time, Israel has not exercised sovereignty in the eastern part of the city. Government symbols no longer exist there, and the government's presence is limited. East Jerusalem has become a no-man's land and a fertile hotbed for despair, alienation, isolation and religious extremism. If one adds to the pot the incitement by such actors as the northern branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement, headed by the radical Sheikh Raed Salah, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the roiling social networks, the result is what we are now witnessing. The request for IDF assistance by the Israeli police in the heart of Israel’s capital can be compared to summoning the US Marines to patrol the streets of Washington. The symbols of Israeli sovereignty are in danger.
We live in an era of surprises. Israel longs for the good old days when a high-quality agent in the vicinity of an Arab ruler and a sophisticated wiretapping system could be relied on as an intelligence “insurance policy” for assessing the odds of a war erupting. This allowed Israeli leaders to sleep well at night. That era is gone, however, and the current intifada — which Palestinians are calling the “al-Quds [Jerusalem] intifada” and some the knife intifada — took Israel’s political echelons by complete surprise. Analyzing this bombshell reveals contradictory data.
Israel’s political leaders are briefed by numerous intelligence and analysis units: IDF Military Intelligence (MI), Mossad, Shin Bet, the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit. The “national analyst” is the head of MI, currently Herzl Levi. In the case of the Palestinians, Mossad is irrelevant because its jurisdiction lies beyond the borders of Israel and the PA. People close to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon have been arguing that none of the briefings they received in the last two years pointed to critical mass being approached in PA-controlled areas or among the Palestinian public at-large to create enough energy for a violent explosion. The Palestinian public is tired, so they were told, but not interested in another round of violence that would take it back to the nightmarish days of the second intifada.
The problem is that there were also other messages being relayed to the diplomatic echelons. Among them were clear warnings that frustration on the ground was increasing; unrest and agitation were growing; Palestinian youths were feeling disconnected from the current leadership and looking for direction and meaning; and that control over the territory would likely deteriorate. The warnings were issued by Central Command, which is responsible for PA territories, but in particular from Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories. Mordechai, known as “Poly” throughout the Middle East, is viewed as one of the people most knowledgeable about the Palestinian pulse.
A fascinating aspect of this issue has to do with which types of intelligence should be given preference: the type based on data and organized intelligence collection of both the SIGNIT (signals intelligence, i.e., electronic means) and HUMINT (human intelligence, i.e., agents) variety or the imprecise type based on gut feeling, overall public mood and cultural and media trends. The warnings from COGAT and Central Command were based on the latter. In this case, it has been proven that gut feelings can sometimes best wiretaps, professional agents and a combination of the two. The gut can beat the head, and that is what has transpired with the knife intifada.
This rebellion differs from its predecessors. This one is the first time that there has been no leader on the playing field, no landlord. There is no one entity initiating, conducting or integrating events. There are no assigned targets. There is no one to capture, neutralize or eliminate. This is an unhinged intifada, an odd rebellion that bubbles through the social networks and erupts into barbarism in attacks by isolated individuals or small groups. Young Palestinians (in one case a 13-year-old) attack Israelis with knives, axes and vegetable peelers; they run them over with vehicles; they strike them with axes in spasms of bloody, unexplained and murderous irrationality. Some of the attacks stem from incitement surrounding the Temple Mount (or Haram al-Sharif to Muslims) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The explosiveness of the Temple Mount issue and whether the next intifada will result from it have been covered by Al-Monitor. There is also more: After the meeting between Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Aug. 18 in Ramallah, an Al-Monitor article cited a warning issued in the form of a concern by the Palestinian leader to the Israeli opposition head: Abbas feared a third intifada and losing control over PA territory. Herzog delivered this message not only to Al-Monitor, but also to Netanyahu, who did not respond. Now he’s probably sorry.
It is important to emphasize that Israel has no intention of taking control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque or changing the status quo involving the Temple Mount. The Palestinians, however, are more attentive to conspiracy theories based on statements by the messianic Israeli right. The thing is, the messianics stand at a great distance from the government, and anyone who relates to their words as a scenario soon to unfold is simply manipulating facts. None of this is important at the moment, however, because the Palestinians are convinced that Israel plans on usurping Al-Aqsa.
Until the Israeli government takes crystal clear action, such as closing the Temple Mount to Jews for a cooling-off period, there is no chance that the Palestinians' state of mind will change. If it doesn't change, this peculiar intifada will continue.