Maria Alvanou: New wave of attacks in Israel: comments on the Sicaris-Assassin model

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[Picture: Motti Bucutcheen, ZAKA]

Dr. Maria Alvanou is a Criminologist and a Security Expert

Recently a barrage of violent attacks has started to take place in Israel and many speak about the outbreak of the ''Third Intifada''. Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have been perpetrating mainly knife attacks against Israelis, including civilians (non combatants / not in actual military service at the time of the attack). There have been fatalities as well as injured victims.

While it is quite early to define this campaign of attacks concretely as the start of a new Intifada, there are some indicative remarks to be made:

Once more it is proved that suicide attacks - employed largely during the Second Intifada - were nothing more than a strategic and operational c hoice for the groups that organized them. They were sensational attacks and they projected to the public determination and dedication to the cause on behalf of the perpetrator. Moreover, the act of blowing one’s self was promoted as the only desperate solution and against the mighty military machine of Israel. Low cost and effective, they were fitting the greater ''martyrdom'' trend of Jihad after September 11 and they challenged security measures. Yet, suicide bombings were just means and nothing more. During the new wave of violence, suicide operations are not in the spotlight. A very simple and primitive form of attack is now dominating the scene: knife stabbings. This attack method is simple, very low cost, requires minimum to none training, it is very immediate and accurate (perpetrator and victim come close and have contact) and proves to be effective. To counter these attacks, new situational prevention and countering measures have started to be taken to prevent and/or stop the attacks.

Stabbings are by far a novelty. It was actually in Israel when Zealots called Sicaris (named after the dagger they carried and used) attacked Romans to stab them. And let us not forget the notorious Assassins who gave their name to the act of assassination. Assassins were killing their targets with a knife. Both cases are often cited as the forefathers of suicide operations, but in strict terms the Sicaris and Assassins were not perpetrating suicide missions. A suicide attack is a dual operational act, where the death of the victim depends on the death of the perpetrator. Thus, in a suicide bombing the agent has to explode and this way kill. A suicide attack means killing by dying. Neither the Sicaris, nor the Assassins used their death to kill. What they did was taking part in extreme high risk operation, with their capture and/or annihilation nearly certain. What modern stabbers do is operationally almost the same. It is most certain that they will be captured and even killed by Israeli authorities while attempting or after they succeed their assault. One important difference is that usually Sicaris and Assassins would target specific personalities (Roman officials, Sultans and Caliphs respectively), while Palestinians seem to stab random Israelis.

The level of group organization behind the attacks remains blur and to be defined. There is need for a specific group or groups claiming responsibility or concrete intelligence pointing to them for recruitment, assignment etc, so that one can analyze an organizational aspect. It is of course doubtful whether all these campaign of attacks is spontaneous, but more data is needed regarding this issue.

Women appear once more as an active part in the attacking scene. The Second Intifada had also a strong female presence. Once not allowed to enjoy the privilege of martyrdom, after their effectiveness was proved (in many levels), women were recruited and featured as valuable fighters. The stereotype of the nurturing and peaceful by nature woman- though it has been seriously challenged by reality over the years-  keeps female participation in violence a sensational media theme. Moreover, the usage of knife for stabbing does not require extra physical strength and women can easily carry out effective attacks.

Palestinians have been fighting Israelis for years now in the name of a national liberation struggle. Yet, even in armed conflict the choice of warfare method must mot be considered unlimited. It is regulated by ethics, customs and the Geneva Convention- Additional Protocol I that applies also in wars of national liberation, in non-state actors and it protects civilians. In addition, the non combatant population of the military powerful part of a conflict should not be considered less protected. The acts or threats of violence to civilians must be regarded as terrorism and strongly condemned in every case. In this matter it is the responsibility of the international community to take a firm stance. For example the sensitivity towards Israeli civilian lives must be of the same magnitude as the sensitivity towards Palestinian civilian lives.

With the war in Syria and the escalating violence in Turkey, this new page of violence in Israel is creating another serious problem for security and stability in a greater area that is influencing international relations. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is characterized by a circle of vengeance and blood that seems to have no end and is an open wound in the Middle East. The re-appearance of attacks to civilians “Sicaris-Assassins style”- while interesting for security scholars to comment- will pose another obstacle for the peace process and it is making the work of those advocating peace by both sides more difficult. After so much death and wounds, it should have become finally evident that there is need for reconciliation and peace building efforts, so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace, with security and dignity.


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