Bombing back in Israel, but not as we knew it

Trauma: a woman is treated after the Jerusalem attack on Wednesday

Trauma: a woman is treated after the Jerusalem attack on Wednesday

The horrific bombing of Jerusalem's central bus station this week that killed a 59-year-old woman and wounded 30 others was the first major terror attack on Israel's capital in almost three years.

"It was nothing like the big suicide bombings of the past decade," said one security official on the scene. "A small bomb, weighing less than two kilograms was left behind in a bag. There are no hallmarks here of the terror networks we faced then."

The bombing was almost prevented. One of the workers at the kiosk behind the bus stop was just calling the police to report a suspicious bag when the bomb went off. If two full buses had not just pulled in, casualties would have been much lower.

Three weeks ago, a municipal worker lost part of his hand when a pipe-bomb left in a rubbish bin in southern Jerusalem went off. The incident was barely reported and Wednesday's blast would not have attracted much more coverage if the bomb had been discovered in time or exploded with only a few casualties.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "This appears to have been a callous and disgusting act of terrorism directed against innocent civilians which I condemn unreservedly."

Hasan Afzal, spokesman for British Muslims for Israel, said: "These attacks hurt all sides and help no one. We urge all British Muslims to condemn these senseless attacks."

According to a senior IDF officer: "The terror organisations in the West Bank have lost much of their capacity to carry out large scale attacks. This is due to the campaign carried out with the Shin Bet over the past few years, and the improved co-ordination with the Palestinian Authority. But these locally-based terror initiatives continue and have intensified recently."

The murder of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar two weeks ago falls into that category of "local initiatives". No major Palestinian terror organisation has taken responsibility for any of the attacks and the Palestinian Authority has denounced them.

Hamas in Gaza, on the other hand, praised the perpetrators of the Fogels' murders. Despite this, the Israeli intelligence consensus is that Hamas does not at present want to escalate the situation around the Strip and the recent intensification of rocket fire is mainly the work of breakaway factions and Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad was responsible for the more serious launches of Grad rockets this week, targeted at Beer Sheva and Ashdod. It is seeking to revenge recent killings of its members by the IAF and to assert its independence from Hamas. Israeli policy is to hold Hamas responsible for every attack coming out of Gaza and to try to maintain the calm in the West Bank.

"The events of the past few weeks prove that we have to rely only on ourselves when it comes to securing the Jewish settlements and the sovereign parts of Israel," said an IDF officer serving in the West Bank.

"The potential for an escalation is there the whole time," said an officer in Southern Command, "but right now, we and Hamas will probably take a step back because it's in no one's interest right now."

    Last updated: 2:27pm, March 24 2011