Europeans now seeing link between terror in Jerusalem and Berlin

The point Netanyahu has been making for years may finally be hitting home

January 13, 2017 11:14

From a security point of view, there was very little out of the ordinary in the ramming attack on Sunday in which four IDF officers were killed and 13 wounded. 

The assailant, East Jerusalem resident Fadi al-Qanbar, drove his lorry into a group of soldiers who had just arrived at the Armon Hanetziv Promenade for an educational tour of the city. He had time to put the vehicle into reverse, in an attempt to hit more people, before a number of soldiers and one civilian shot him dead in the cabin. 

This was the worst terror attack in Jerusalem for over a year, but it was far from unique. 

Just like dozens of attacks in Jerusalem over the past 15 months, this was a resident of the city, acting on his volition, without any active support from a terror organisation, using whatever means he had against a convenient target. 

As Police Commissioner Ronny Alsheich said after arriving at the scene: “You don’t need more that two to three seconds to find a terrorist target.” 
What Commissioner Alsheich did not add, although he knows it very well, was that very little than can be done to prevent such attacks, save cutting off Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighbourhoods from the rest of the city. 

What was different this time, however, was the way the attack was used by Israeli politicians and pundits to further their agenda. 

From the left there were those warning that the attack was an example of what would happen if the incoming Trump administration moves the American embassy to Jerusalem — as if such attacks were not occurring long before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination. 

On the right, there were those who rushed to say that the soldiers did not kill the assailant fast enough as they were worried that they could also be put on trial, just like Sergeant Elor Azaria, who was last week convicted of manslaughter for shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron. 

This was equally ridiculous on a number of counts. For a start, there were a number of soldiers who reacted quickly, shooting al-Qanbar before he could continue mowing down more of their comrades. 

Any comparison between the actions of Azaria, a trained combat soldier who shot a man 11 minutes after being immobilised, and the reactions of soldiers from non-combat units in the first few seconds of an incident is baseless. In 73 separate incidents since the Hebron shooting last March, IDF soldiers have shot Palestinian assailants, so there does not seem to be an “Azaria effect”. 

However, the way each side has tried to wrench the latest attack out of its context and politicise it is another sign of the low point at which Israeli political discourse stands. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also keen on using the attack as part of a wider agenda. “We know the identity of the attacker. All signs point to him being a supporter of the Islamic State,” he said at the scene of the murders. 

While no clear evidence of Al-Qanbar being a Daesh-supporter has yet emerged, Mr Netanyahu was quick to connect Sunday’s ramming attack to those that took place in Europe in 2016. “France and Berlin and now Jerusalem,” he said. 

Two days later, while visiting a military base alongside the prime minister, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed Palestinian President for an “increase in incitement” in mosques in the Palestinian Authority. This is despite intelligence assessments by the IDF saying that security cooperation with the PA has actually improved in recent months. 

Both the senior politicians, of course, have ongoing agendas. Mr Lieberman has long been calling for the dissolution of the PA and has tried to minimise contacts with its officials. Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, has been trying to merge Israel’s century-old conflict with the Palestinians into the more recent threat of radical Islamic terror facing the West. This week, at least, he seems to have succeeded. 

While in the past many Western governments were somewhat hesitant to condemn Palestinian attacks against IDF soldiers across the Green Line (technically, Sunday’s attack took place in what was once no-man’s land between Israel and Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem), this time there was a chorus of unequivocal solidarity with Israel. 

Even the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted, “again we condemn another despicable act of terrorism today in Jerusalem”, although he later deleted it. 
In Germany’s capital, the Brandenburg Gate was lit up on Monday night with the colours of Israel’s flag, which was also flying over city halls in Paris and Rotterdam. 

This time at least, the Western world seems to agree with Mr Netanyahu that they are all facing the same threat. It is too early to say whether this is a trend, but we can speculate on the reasons. The visual similarities between the ramming attacks in Nice, Berlin and Jerusalem probably played a part. The near-identical images of a lorry, its windshield pockmarked with bullet-holes amid the chaos and casualties, probably played a role. 

There is a growing realisation in some quarters of Europe that there are at least some links between what Israelis have been facing for decades and what Europeans are facing are now. 

There may also be at least some connection between the increasing solidarity with Israel and the changing international landscape in the era of Mr Trump where, for better or for worse, the Israel-Palestine conflict is likely to be much lower on the list of Western diplomatic priorities. 

January 13, 2017 11:14

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