ATbar The Al-Aqsa Intifada - Palestinian-Israeli Confrontation

The Al-Aqsa Intifada - Palestinian-Israeli Confrontation

04/04/2001 | by Multiple Authors  
By Shaul Shay and Yoram Schweitzer

This article was previously published in Faultlines - Writings in Conflict and Resolution, Vol. 8; The Institute for Conflict Management


Since 29th September 2000, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) have been engaged in a violent confrontation, which is defined and portrayed differently by each of the parties.

The State of Israel describes the situation as a limited confrontation that threatens to escalate into a limited war or even a regional war.(1) The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, defines the situation as a popular uprising— “The al-Aqsa Intifada” or the “Intifada for Independence.” According to the PA, the Intifada is a well-organized popular uprising whose goal is to further the establishment of the Palestinian state.(2)

In spite of the differences in defining and understanding the situation, it is obvious that there has been a fundamental change in the Palestinian modus operandi, and that they have reverted to the use of the “armed struggle” as a tool of policy. At the same time, they reserve the option of the political process which has been Arafat’s preferred strategic option since the Oslo Agreement of September 93.

Although we have no exact knowledge of what brought about Arafat’s strategic policy change vis-a-vis the peace process, it can be assumed that his decision was influenced by a variety of factors. Among them:

  1. His inability to achieve all of the P.A.’s aims and objectives through the peace process, as stated at the Camp David conference. (3)
  2. His desire to achieve an independent Palestinian state while creating a national myth of armed struggle and a war of independence. (4)
  3. The perceived success of Hizballah’s armed struggle in ousting the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon, with no compromise or agreement on the part of the organization or the Lebanese government. (5)

Although the Palestinians describe the confrontation as an Intifada, a concept which confers upon it the quality of a popular uprising, in actual fact, it is not a spontaneous popular uprising as was the first Intifada. The original Intifada, which broke out in 1987, was directed, at least initially, by the “Palestinian street.” It was initiated from the bottom up. The current uprising on the other hand, was initiated from the top down; it was instigated and directed by the Palestinian Authority. Thus, the al-Aqsa Intifada represents a confrontation, not between occupier and occupied, but rather, between a semi-state authority (the P.A.) and the State of Israel.(6)

Characteristics of the Confrontation

The current confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians can be defined as a low-intensity or an asymmetrical confrontation, which takes place mainly in urban areas. (7) Such areas are, by their very nature, the optimal locales for the “weaker side” in an asymmetric confrontation. Both the requirements of maintaining a country’s “image” and the considerations of morality and purity of arms greatly limit the operational options of the “strong side” in the conflict—in this case, Israel. Thus the urban venue of the confrontation significantly reduces Israel’s military superiority, since the vast majority of possible tactical strikes are ruled out by the need to avoid civilian casualties.

The Palestinians’ stated goals in initiating the al-Aqsa Intifada are the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, within the 1967 borders and the realization of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees.(8) The Palestinian armed struggle combines a civil popular uprising—in which civilians hurl stones and firebombs at IDF personnel—with limited terrorist activities perpetrated by the Palestinian security forces. The intention is to wear down Israeli resistance, particularly from the political and social standpoint, and to obtain Arab and international involvement and support for the Palestinian position. This activity is aimed at forcing Israel to make the maximum concessions to Palestinian demands.(9)

The Palestinian struggle does not focus only on violent armed struggle (although this violent civilian and military activity is the central component), but also on five other arenas of confrontation. According to the Palestinian perception, only success in all of these areas combined can achieve the desired goals.
The five arenas of confrontation are:
  1. The military arena
  2. The political/diplomatic arenas—both internationally and in the Arab world.
  3. The information and propaganda arena (psychological, morale, sociological).
  4. The media.
  5. The economic arena.

As mentioned, there are connections and reciprocal influences between these arenas and the result of the whole campaign will be determined by weighing the achievements in their entirety.

The Urban Dimension

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict occurs in two main urban areas:(10)
  1. The West Bank – from Jenin, in the North, to Hebron, in the South.
  2. The Gaza Strip – from the Erez checkpoint to the Egyptian border.
An additional area of confrontation, albeit with different characteristics, can be seen in the Galilee, in urban strips along the main thoroughfares—Wadi Ara and the Acre-Carmiel road.
There are various kinds of urban confrontation models, each with different characteristics:
  • Jerusalem – as the heart of the conflict, it is perceived by both sides as their capital, and is home to both Jewish and Palestinian populations.
  • Hebron – a major friction point, where a Jewish settlement is situated inside a predominantly Palestinian area.
  • Palestinian towns under full Palestinian control – Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Kalkilya, Jericho, Gaza City, etc.
  • Built-up rural areas – under Palestinian or Israeli Security control.
  • Refugee camps – under Palestinian control.
  • Jewish Settlement areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
  • Jewish Settlements on the Green Line
  • Large Israeli Cities – as a target for Palestinian “strategic terrorism.”
Combat in urban areas has several main characteristics: (11)
  • “Chaotic” areas – Combat takes place in all geometric dimensions concurrently.
  • The lack of distinct confrontation lines between the enemy and our forces.
  • The difficulty in distinguishing between enemy forces and the civilian population.
  • The combat arena changes constantly as a result of the destruction of buildings and infrastructure, while new structures are created which require new definitions (“demolition warfare”).
  • The lack of a clear distinction between the home front and the combat zone.

The Asymmetric Dimension

The Palestinians are aware of the asymmetric character of the conflict and make every effort to balance the asymmetric components by expanding the boundaries of the conflict and enlisting power mechanisms to offset the asymmetric balance between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Palestinian side is thus endeavoring to expand the boundaries of the conflict, as follows:

The Palestinian Front

The Palestinian Authority is making considerable efforts to enlist Israeli Arabs to their struggle. Between the 29 September and 8 October, Israeli Arabs rioted and blocked highways and junctions. The riots ended in the deaths of 14 citizens (13 Arabs and 1 Jew).(12)

The PA is also encouraging dispersed Palestinians in the Arab world to support the struggle of the Palestinian Authority in Israel, and to put pressure on Arab governments.

The PA is attempting to enlist Palestinians all over the world into its propaganda campaign, as a political and social “lobby” in those countries where the Palestinians reside, with the goal of pressuring their governments to support the Palestinian side in the conflict.

The Arab Front

The Palestinian Authority, on Arafat’s directives, is attempting to enlist the support of the Arab countries for both the armed struggle and for the continuation of the peace process, at one and the same time. (13) The Palestinian Authority gives considerable weight to the position of Egypt’s President Mubarak, who is a central figure in the peace process, and to the suppoof theArab League. When Israel bombed Palestinian Authority targets in the Gaza Strip, in the aftermath of the bombing of a school bus in Kfar Darom, Egypt recalled the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, as a show of support and solidarity with the Palestinian position. Arafat thus scored points in his maneuvers within the Arab arena.

The Palestinian Authority’s success in garnering Arab support is, at the moment, limited primarily to political and moral support, together with the limited economic support agreed upon at the Arab summit. Iraq, the most extreme country within the Arab camp, was the only country to offer military support, but this initiative was discarded due to international pressure and the objection of other Arab countries. (14)

In any event, the threat that the Arab world would be drawn in to the conflict, and the strategic threat of a possible escalation and decline into regional war, is without doubt a useful tool to pressure Israel. This threat hinders Israel’s reaction to Palestinian terrorism and is thus an important component in offsetting the asymmetry between the sides.

The Islamic Front

From the outset of the conflict, The Palestinian Authority has placed the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock at the center of the confrontation. The P.A. claims to have initiated the conflict in order to protect the Islamic holy places from Israel’s evil schemes, and the Palestinians see themselves as warriors in a religious struggle.

The Palestinian Authority is therefore attempting to expand the meaning of the conflict to include a national and religious confrontation—Islam against Zionism and Judaism.(15) The eruption of the riots at the Temple Mount assisted the P.A. to inject content into the name “al-Aqsa Intifada.” This step was intended to enlist the support of the entire Moslem world for the Palestinian side. Moreover, the religious character of the conflict gave the P.A. the necessary excuse to improve its relations with the Islamic terror organizations, such as Hamas, the Palestinian Jihad, and even with Hizballah. This, in turn, allowed the P.A. to release Hamas and Palestinian Jihad terrorists from its prisons and give them the “green light” to renew their terror attacks against Israel, as partners to the broader conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. (16)

The International Front

The Palestinian Authority is making every effort to enlist the support of the international community for the Palestinian cause. On the practical level, the P.A. is striving to “internationalize” the conflict by presenting itself as the underdog and calling for a United Nations Peacekeeping Force to “protect” the Palestinians from Israel.(18)

As mentioned above, the P.A. is striving for the optimum goal of forcing an agreement on Israel under the auspices of the international community and perhaps even with the backing of an international force.

As an interim goal, they are taking advantage of information and propaganda achievements, such as declarations of support from global leaders, United Nations resolutions, as well as humanitarian aid, which enhances the will of the Palestinian populace to sustain, or at least condone, the violence.

The Palestinian Authority’s objective is to expand the conflict on all four of these levels; all the P.A.’s military and civilian activity is aimed at advancing this goal. The response of the different factors in the various arenas significantly contributes to the restriction of Israel’s retaliation ability and as a result, reduces the asymmetry between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

The Military Dimension as a Limited Confrontation in Urban Areas

As mentioned, the Palestinians conduct the major part of their armed uprising in urban areas. The types of confrontations fall into three main categories:

  1. Mass civilian disturbances
    These disturbances include various degrees of violence (stone-throwing, fire-bombs, shooting live ammunition, hand-grenades and roadside-bombs).
  2. Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism
    Firing from urban areas at homes in neighboring Israeli towns, settlements in the West Bank, neighborhoods in Jerusalem and settlements along the Green Line, detonating road-side bombs and ambushes of civilian and military vehicles. These activities are mostly carried out by the Fatah Tanzim,(19) and by members of the Palestinian security forces.(20) In other words, they are attacks planned and carried out by the Palestinian establishment.
  3. “Strategic” Terrorism (21)
    Kidnapping of soldiers and execution of terrorist attacks, using car bombs, explosives, and suicide attacks. Attacks and attempted attacks in this category have so far been carried out mostly by Islamic terror organizations: The Islamic Jihad and the Hamas. Some attacks have been perpetrated by the Palestinian Security Forces, such as the attack on the children’s bus in Kfar Darom, which resulted in the IDF’s attacks on the P.A. headquarters in Gaza.

These three modes of action complement each other within the framework of the Palestinian struggle, and are subject to modification according to the over-all needs of the P.A. At times the primary activity is popular violence, which serves the needs of the propaganda campaign, while at other times, the PA relies more on guerilla and terrorism as a means of escalating the conflict.

An analysis of the Palestinian operative methods points to a clear connection between its choice of method and the venue of confrontation, namely, urban areas. The urban arena is the natural focal point for mass civilian disturbances and riots. The civilians who participate in these disturbances reside nearby, are available for action at all times, do not require complicated organization and logistics, and at the end of the activity, return to their daily routines. Moreover, the rioters can mingle with crowds of bystanders, who take no active part in the disturbances, thereby greatly restricting the enemy’s response.

The P.A. often makes cynical use of children and encourages them to take part in the demonstrations. General Yitzhak Eitan, Commander of the Central District, stated that “unfortunately, the Palestinians cynically use children, women and youth to confront the Israeli soldiers. They positioned them in the front line in order to put the IDF in an awkward and difficult position.”(22)

Referring to this tactic, General Giora Ireland, IDF Head of Operations, stated that “the Palestinians make deliberate use of children, with the clear aim of increasing the number of casualties. We have here a bizarre situation whereby the other side is actually trying to increase its casualties. There is a limit to our ability to prevent them from achieving their desired aim.”(23)

According to statistics published in a report by the “Betzelem” human rights organization, between 29 September and 2 December 2000, approximately 25% of the Palestinian civilian casualties were minors under the age of 17 (50 out of 204 Palestinian civilian casualties).(24)

In most civil disturbances witnessed thus far, stone-throwing and fire-bombs mark only the preliminary stage, followed by shooting by gunmen hidden in the crowds, or by snipers stationed in nearby buildings.

The following incident, which occurred on 27 October, 2000, is a good illustration of the Palestinian modus operandi:(25)

At noon on 27 October 2000, a mass demonstration was held by Palestinians at a major junction in the West Bank near the main entry to the town of Ramallah. Approximately ten thousand fire-bomb and stone-throwing demonstrators advanced to within 20-30 meters from the IDF baricade. The soldiers manning the barrier reacted with tear gas grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators.

During the demonstration, a large crowd had gathered in the adjacent streets, including members of the media. Roughly an hour into the confrontation, Palestinian snipers opened fire on the IDF baricade, and the soldiers returned fire. From that moment, the demonstrators and the crowd dispersed, while the shooting continued. In that incident, one Palestinian was killed and a number were wounded; there no IDF casualties.

kind of activity usually ends with casualties among the rioting civilians, and thus serves the Palestinian propaganda machine and legitimizes their demand for international and Arab protection of the Palestinian “civilians.”

Built-up areas, particularly the periphery of towns and villages close to major thoroughfares, settlements and Israeli suburbs, are the main venues of activity for guerilla and terrorist activity. The squads complete all their preparations deep inside built-up areas and arrive at the area of operation on their own initiative and at a time and place of their choosing. The attacks are carried out from built-up areas, populated by civilians who, in general, do not take part in the hostilities—a factor that considerably inhibits the IDF’s retaliatory actions. At the end of the operation, the perpetrators return to their safe houses deep inside the urban area.(26)

An example of this modus operandi can be seen in Bituniya in Ramallah. At the entrance to the village, several meters from the villagers’ homes, Force 17 (the elite force of the P.A.) erected their headquarters. The gunmen shot at the IDF camp, situated on a hill opposite Bituniya, from their headquarters and from additional nearby buildings. The IDF’s return fire hit the buildings from which the gunmen were shooting. (27)

An additional example is Beit Jala, a Palestinian village from which gunmen open fire on the nearby Israeli neighborhood of Gilo. The gunmen make use of the homes of the local inhabitants. In one case, according to the testimony of the house owners, four armed gunmen arrived and informed the house owners that they were about to open fire on the Israelis and before they were able to leave their home, the gunmen opened fire, thus drawing Israeli counter-fire, which caused damage to the house. (28)

Characteristic of Palestinian guerilla and terrorist activity is the shooting from built-up areas at army posts and installations, as well as settlements and villages.

During the first few months of the current conflict, there were many cases of Palestinians gunmen shooting at settlements, particularly Psagot, Vered Yericho and the suburb of Gilo in Jerusalem. The shooting occurred almost every night from Palestinian-controlled urban areas. Between 29 September and 2 December, 13 Israeli citizens were killed and 118 wounded. There was considerable damage to property. (29)

Another type of attack, the purpose of which is to hamper Israeli traffic between urban centers, is carried out against motor vehicles at traffic junctions. This is usually done by ambushing cars or by activating roadside bombs, and on occasion, a combination of both (detonation of a roadside bomb, followed by shooting).

On 20 October 2000, a road-side bomb was detonated at Kfar Darom as a bus carrying Israeli teachers and school children was passing. Two people were killed and nine were wounded, five of them children. Two very young children from the same family had to have arms or legs amputated.

Hisham Abed el-Razek, Minister in charge of Prisoners in the P.A., justified this attack with the claim: “The perpetrators of this attack are Palestinians, we carried out the attack against the occupier of our lands. From our point of view, every action against the occupation is legitimate.” (30)

These activities also make some use of urban areas, in that, although they are not usually carried out in there, the attackers depart from and return to towns and villages after the attack. This, again, greatly limits the possibility of retaliation.

Urban friction points at which terror and guerilla activity continues for a long period tend to eventually become no-man’s land, owing to the departure of the civilian population. Such areas now include the outskirts of Palestinian villages such as Ramallah, opposite Psagot and the town of Beit Jala, opposite Gilo. These no-man’s regions enable relative freedom of action for the Palestinian attackers. However, there is internal pressure in the Palestinian camp to limit these areas as far as possible, so as to avoid causing suffering and damage to the civilian population (31)

Unorganized groups of armed Palestinians often participate in shooting attacks and ambushes alongside members of the various Palestinian security forces. The foremost such group is the “Tanzim,” the Fatah terror organization’s armed militias.

These bodies maintain headquarters, equipment depots, ammunition and operation centers, all concentrated in the midst of civilian populations, which gives them a measure of security from reprisal or attack. Such a choice of venue confers on the Palestinian attack units some very solid tactical advantages:
  • On the military level, the surrounding urban area serves as a shield and cover for terrorist and guerilla activists.
  • The existence of a civilian population, who serve as a cover for the fighting elements, restricts the Israeli forces’ reaction and protects the Palestinian fighters.
  • Any large-scale attack carried out by the IDF against Palestinian armed activity, would necessitate fighting in built-up areas and would thus result in a relatively large number of casualties (including among the uninvolved civilian population).
  • Fighting from and inside built-up areas limits the effectiveness of Israel’s heavy armaments (tanks, helicopters).
  • On the propaganda and psychological level, fighting in urban areas imbues the conflict with a civilian and popular character.
  • Every IDF surgical strike in Palestinian areas is presented as an attack on civilians.
  • An IDF “mishap,” involving large-scale damage to the civilian population, could become a means for applying strong international and Arab pressure on Israel.
  • The existence of a large civilian population enables the popular uprising to continue indefinitely.
  • The perception of a large civilian population suffering from the effects of prolonged siege is a lever for bringing international pressure to bear on Israel.

Israeli Goals in the Conflict

Israel’s goal is to bring the conflict to a conclusion as quickly as possible, while limiting the number of casualties as far as possible. In addition, Israel seeks the return of the Palestinians to the negotiating table without allowing them to gain concessions as a result of violence.(32)

Particularly problematic for Israel is the fighting involving the civilian population, at times led by Palestinians and teenagers and children, many of whom are brought to friction points in special buses by the PA, who order schools to close for this purpose. These young people participate in mass civilian disturbances and riots—most of which occur in front of television cameras—using stones and molotov cocktails.

Disturbances of this kind involve severe difficulties for the IDF, which is unable to respond with force to quell the disturbances. The IDF strives to avoid harming civilians and causing environmental damage. For this reason, the IDF attempts to avoid fighting in built-up areas, which usually involves many casualties. Instead, Israel focuses on attacking the terrorist squads, making every effort to pinpoint the target precisely, using accurate sniper fire, artillery, or combat helicopters.

At a press conference on 3 October 2000, General Giora Eland, Head of Operations, stated: “We are very restrained in our use of live gunfire, and only open fire when there is a danger to life” (33). Similar statements were made by Chief of Staff General Shaul Mofaz on 8 October.

The self-imposed limitations on the use of fire-power significantly reduces the advantage of the IDF’s military and technological power and tends to impose a posture of static firing, usually in retaliation, along the urban friction points. As a result of these limitations, the IDF’s activities can be characterized as follows:

  • The IDF usually does not initiate but retaliates.
  • The IDF does not usually operate in Area A, which is under P.A. control, with the exception of surgical operations, after which the soldiers do not remain in the Palestinian areas (34)
  • The IDF is deployed in a defensive formation around the urban centers, with the main effort being on personal protection so as to limit injuries to its forces.
  • The IDF retaliates in accordance with the severity of the Palestinian attack, from light-arms to tanks and combat helicopters.
  • Attacks on Palestinian security headquarters and installations inside the P.A. areas have so far been carried out mainly by combat helicopters and Israeli naval gunboats in the Gaza area.
  • Fighting in urban areas forces the IDF to defend settlements and suburbs from inside built-up areas under Israeli control, thus reducing its ability to defend the civilian population.

Israel deals with the Palestinian challenge by using combined military and economic measures, such as encircling Palestinian towns, imposing a closure on Palestinian areas, and preventing Palestinians from crossing into Israel. Israel also reserves the option of closing check points between P.A. areas and external borders, such as the Jordan valley crossing points, the Rafiah check point into Egypt and the Palestinian airport at Dahaniya.(35)

These measures are intended to pressure the P.A. and the Palestinian population to reduce the level of violence and prevent attacks. Moral considerations and the concern over international pressure tend to result in only partial closures on P.A. areas. For this reason, the effectiveness of these measures is limited.(36)

Additional IDF activities aim to cope with the limitations at the points of conflict, and include measures to limit the access to specific areas used as cover for hostile elements, or the destruction of structures or foliage that have been used as cover for past attacks.

The IDF has also constructed by-pass roads to urban centers, with the intention of reducing friction with the Palestinian side and forcing the attackers to leave the urban areas in order to carry out attacks on Israeli traffic.

The Israeli dilemma in dealing with the P.A.’s behavior has worsened due to the fact that since the P.A. abandoned the peace process, it has been operating as a classical “terrorism-supporting entity.” The P.A. initiates, organizes, supports and executes guerilla warfare and terrorism. The Tanzim, who are an integral part of the Fatah, together with the various security arms of the P.A. are directly involved in carrying out the P. A.’s violent policy. The Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the various Palestinian Fronts join them in perpetrating attacks from the area under the P.A.’s control and then return to their sheltered territory.

This has led Israel to initiate a policy of “localized prevention.” This policy is based on the practical considerations of dealing directly with the perpetrators and their handlers. There is also a moral aspect to this policy in that the targets of attack are those who are directly responsible for terrorism, rather than innocent people. This contrasts with the wider collateral damage that would be unavoidable if the IDF were to retaliate directly to the massive shooting carried out by the Palestinians from urban inhabited areas.

Thus far, fifteen attacks against Palestinian commanders and key activists have been attributed to Israel. Some of these were P.A. security personnel or members of the terrorist organizations who were personally responsible for terror attacks. The most recent, a Hamas activist, was killed in Nablus on 19 February 2001. The terrorist, Mahmoud el-Madani, was involved in two attacks—in Hadera and Natanya, both major cities in Israel, that were chosen for their large concentration of residents as being suitable for suicide attacks and car-bombings. (37)

The P.A. has refused to act in accordance with the Oslo Agreement and arrest—and even to extradite—murderers of Israelis, and to otherwise operate as a sovereign authority. This has compelled Israel, if it wishes to survive, to act against the terrorists in order to bring them to justice in Israel or to attack them in their hiding places.

In addition to this proactive policy of preventing terrorism, Israel, is making intensive efforts to capture the terrorists and bring them to justice for the murder of innocent Israelis. For example, Israel captured some of those who carried out the lynching of two Israeli reserve soldiers who mistakenly found themselves in Ramallah. Israeli security forces also captured a Palestinian woman, Muna Amana, who confessed to enticing, by means of the internet, a 16 year-old high-school student to his death. (38)

Those arrested are given the opportunity to defend themselves in court.

Involvement of Foreign Elements in P.A. Terror Activity

The Palestinian Authority’s about-face—from negotiation to guerilla and terrorist activity—has made the terrorist activity of foreign elements easier, particularly those opposed to the peace process with Israel, such as Iran and its proxy, Hizballah. Even before the outbreak of the current hostilities, these two made every effort to foil the peace process by supporting the Fundamentalist organizations in carrying out terror attacks.

In the new reality, their strategic aim is now to harm the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in such a way that it will be difficult for the two communities to return to a relationship based on mutual trust and to arrive at a peace treaty. To this end, Hizballah, in co-ordination with Iran, has prepared a strategic plan of action which is intended to accelerate the perpetration of massive terror attacks in Israel. To put this plan into operation, the Hizballah is proceeding on several different planes:
  • An intensive effort to train activists from the Islamic Fundamentalist organizations in Lebanese and Iranian training camps where they are trained in sabotage and shooting. Their purpose is to upgrade these organizations’ abilities to carry out more lethal attacks in Israel.
  • Enlistment of Israeli Arabs to assist in gathering intelligence information and in perpetrating terrorist attacks. An example of this can be seen in the Israeli Arab cell in Kfar Abu Snaan uncovered by Israel in November. This cell was controlled by senior activists in Lebanon connected to Hizballah, who transferred information at the fence separating the Israeli-Lebanese sides, where family members from both sides meet and shout to each other from both sides of the fence.
  • Operation of terror cells composed of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. An example of this can be seen in the operation of a senior officer in Force 17 of the P.A.’s security forces, Masoud Nasser, who was killed in an IDF’s helicopter attack in January 2001. This senior officer was the head of a terror network which operated in Gaza and was responsible for the shooting of mortar shells at Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. He had also planned the kidnapping of senior IDF officers. His son, Iyad Nasser, was also involved in terrorist activity, combined with criminal activity involving drug trafficking. The two operated in accordance with Hizballah’s instructions and with its support. Masoud Nasser traveled last summer to Lebanon where he met with Hizballah activists and apparently concluded his mode of action with them. Iyad Nasser was arrested by Israeli security forces.
  • Sending the organization’s activists into Israel in order to perpetrate terror attacks under its direct supervision. An example of this is the dispatch to Israel of Jihad Shumaan, a Shi’ite Lebanese with a British passport, who arrived in Israel at the end of December 2000. He was to collect explosive materials hidden beforehand in Jerusalem, to assemble a bomb and to detonate it in one of Israel’s main cities.

At the same time, Hizballah also perpetrates terror attacks on Israel’s northern border in order to exacerbate the situation between Lebanon and Israel. Their aim is to prevent the signing of a peace treaty between these two states, notwithstanding the fact that the U.N. has determined that Israel has fully complied with the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 425 concerning withdrawal from Lebanon. Hizballah explains this activity as its “contribution” to the Palestinian struggle in the territories, where they strive to serve as a role model.

The involvement of Iran and Hizballah in whatis happening in the territories, despite the fact that they are not the motivators of the violence, is undoubtedly an added force in the Palestinians’ ability to perpetrate terror attacks on a large scale in a more “professional” manner.

The Afghanistan Alumni and their Connection to the Activity against Israel in the Current Conflict

An additional force wishing to take advantage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to convert it from a national one into a religious one, is Osama Bin Laden and his fellow Afghanistan Alumni (see “The Afghanistan Alumni, Military Balance in the Middle East,” Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, Nov. 1999)

With the outbreak of hostilities in Israel and the Territories, Sunni Islamic fundamentalist forces in various countries took advantage of the conflict, which had ostensibly broken out because the Jews were trying to take control of the Temple Mount and harm the Islamic holy sites there. In October, the Chechnyans called for a Jihad against Israel and expressed their willingness to send one hundred fifty fighters there. (

One of the main leaders of the Afghanistan Alumni is Abu Hamza – known as “The Egyptian,” and whose real name is Mustafa Kamal. His London-based “Anzar al-Shriya” organization stated in a religious publication on its internet site: “The Muslims are called to support the Jihad and Intifada warriors against Israel, and to donate their money, bodies and propaganda.” (Anzar al-Shriya Internet site, 27 October, 2000). On 27 December, 2000, Sheikh Omar Bakri published a call on the internet site of the Islamic organization “al Mohajirun” (which also operates from London) to demonstrate in support of the Intifada during Ramadan.(

Since the commencement of the uprising in the territories, the Afghanistan Alumni have not carried out any terror attacks against Israeli targets, neither in Israel proper nor abroad. However, due to Bin Laden’s modus operandi and those of his associates, there is a real possibility of such attacks—not only because of their verbal attacks against Israel, but also because of the attacks carried out in the past, which required thorough and lengthy preparations.

The Afghan Alumni activity against Israel during the current hostilities does not play a decisive role at present; but their financial and propaganda support encourages the violence and could, if the armed conflict continues, cause an escalation if they carry out their threats to dispatch terror cells to the territories to perpetrate attacks against Israel.

Palestinian Strategic Terrorism (39)

Palestinian strategic terrorism is led today by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, with the implicit consent of the Palestinian Authority. The P.A. reserves the right to regulate terrorist activity when it believes that attacks would jeopardize political gains. The release from prison of terrorists belonging to these organizations, and the freedom of action and occasional assistance granted them by the P.A., have enabled them to prepare and execute large-scale attacks, such as car-bomb and suicide attacks.

Most of the attacks have been directed at Israeli urban areas, in order to exact the maximum price and thus to influence Israeli public opinion. Recent attacks include:
  • A car-bomb attack near Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market (2 November, 2000)
  • A car-bomb attack in Hadera (22 November, 2000)
  • A shooting attack at the National Insurance Institute in Jerusalem (30 October, 2000)
  • A suicide attack in the Jordan Valley (22 Dec.)
  • Attack on bus in Tel Aviv (29 Dec.)
  • Attack on family from Ofra settlement near Jerusalem (31 Dec.)
  • Car-bomb in Netanya (1 Jan. 2001)

These attacks, while not serving the Palestinian propaganda campaign, have the advantage of significantly affecting Israeli morale. It is also clear that Palestinian security personnel and the Fatah Tanzim are involved in the preparation of attacks inside Israel.

The al-Aqsa Intifada was intended to be a golden opportunity for the Islamic terror organizations, the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to justify their achievements in the struggle against Israel. From their perspective, the political process and the Oslo accords have failed to gain the strategic aims of the Palestinian Authority. With the breakdown of the peace process, they say, Israel has shown its true colors.

Recent years have been difficult ones for the two organizations. While at their height, during the years 95-97, they perpetrated several high-profile suicide attacks in Israeli cities, causing considerable damage to Israeli morale. Now, however, the Islamic groups seem to have passed their peak. They found it difficult to continue carrying out “strategic” terror attacks in Israel, mainly due to Israeli and P.A. prevention action and sometimes by cooperation between the two. Security cooperation between the P.A. security forces and Israel resulted in the arrest of senior operational activists, the elimination of terror cells, the exposure of ammunition dumps and severe limitation on the freedom of action of activists. At the same time, neighboring countries—particularly Jordan—also reined them in. The public feeling in the P.A. controlled areas was unsympathetic to high-profile terror attacks, which were seen as endangering the peace process, and thus hindering the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Hamas, as a social, political and religious movement, was often at odds with the PA, and limited itself to “dawa” activity: establishment of a religious social network and activities meant to persuade the population to join its ranks and to support and identify with its aims. At the same time, the Hamas attempted to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank, though at a level aimed to prevent a large-scale confrontation with the P.A. The level of friction between the P.A. and the Hamas was kept on a “low flame” in recent years and has not reached open confrontation, particularly because Hamas fears that such a confrontation would destroy the movement’s standing among the Palestinian population. The Hamas leadership, particularly in the West Bank—as opposed to the more militant leadership abroad—believed that the struggle for Palestinian public opinion regarding the character of the Palestinian State could be postponed until after the establishment of the independent state.

In contrast to the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad in Palestine is a marginal organization in Palestinian society. The organization is mainly based on the militant Jihad doctrine expressed by the slogan “Jihad Now,” with no political agenda or social standpoints. The organization has only several hundred members and is based on a relatively small nucleus of operational activists. Its activities are mostly supported by Iran, which finances the organization and trains its activists in either in Iran or via the Hizballah in Lebanon. Due to the organization’s dependence on this support, Iran has considerable influence over its activities. Because the organization’s headquarters are in Damascus, Syria too has the ability to influence and pressure the organization to perpetrate or avoid carrying out terror attacks. In recent years, the organization has operated within these constraints, with no significant success. The P.A. was far more willing to take a hard line against the Palestinian Jihad activists than against the Hamas, due to the gap in the support which each of the organizations enjoyed among the Palestinian population. The Palestinian Jihad, with the encouragement of its Iranian patrons, is determined to take advantage of the present situation to intensify its activity and increase its influence among the Palestinian populace, but so far it has not reaped significant gains.

With the outbreak of the rioting in September 2000 and the release of the Islamist extremist prisoners by the Palestinian Authority, it was to be expected that the fundamentalist organizations would take a more central role in the fighting, putting into practice their expertise in perpetratterror attacks. The public mood in the street and among the Palestinian security forces was also such that there was more support for the Islamists’ confrontational message, leading them to assume a greater role in the struggle.

In actual fact, both organizations have carried out a relatively small number of attacks and have not succeeded in drawing the Palestinian street into an overall battle. Their most conspicuous attacks were those carried out in Jerusalem and Hadera. Both were high-profile attacks intended to cause mass casualties, and in both cases they used remote control devices and bombs activated by suicide attackers, as their modus operandi.


The violent confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians that has been dubbed “The al-Aqsa Intifada” is at present a limited conflict. The level of violence rises and falls as a result of political interests, while at the same time being influenced by facts on the ground. The historically complicated circumstances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has lasted for many years, are seeped in hatred and hostility, in spite of the attempt of the Oslo Accords to reach a political dialogue. These passions, always simmering beneath the surface, can bring about an escalation of the armed conflict.

The intense political effort expressed by the bilateral meetings at Camp David and the Middle East during 2000 was meant to bring an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This historic attempt brought to the surface the deepest issues of the conflict, such as the historical and religious rights of both sides and the future of sites holy to both the Jewish and Moslem religions. As a result, the dispute was sharpened and the Palestinian side once more fell back on the use of violence as a tool to achieve better conditions than those offered during the political negotiations at Camp David.

The Palestinian Authority took advantage of the “ambient conditions”—a patent asymmetric confrontation in urban areas as an instrumental policy tool in the confrontation to determine the borders of the future Palestinian state. The advantages of conducting the struggle in urban areas to create a national ethos of “independence gained by armed struggle” are exploited to the full, in spite of the human misery and the high economic price paid by the Palestinian population. The asymmetric dimension and the image of a “Palestinian David and an Israeli Goliath” supported by sending children to the front-line, is exploited to the utmost for propaganda purposes and for the enlistment of support in the Arab and international communities.

The traditional opposition to the political process between Israel and the P.A., particularly the fundamentalist terror organizations and Iran which actively supports them, are intent on escalating the conflict and torpedoing the peace process. Therefore, in addition to the escalation potential in this type of confrontation, it can be expected that the fundamentalist opposition will take advantage of the friction points to escalate their own terrorist activity against Israeli targets in the West Bank and inside Israel. However, it must be pointed out that their level of violence is mainly dependent on how much freedom of action the P.A. is willing to grant them. Alternately, they may be prevented from acting, as happened in recent years with relative success when the Palestinian and Israeli security forces cooperated.

At this stage, the end of 2000, the limited confrontation level has been maintained due to both sides managing to contain the level of violence. While the violence continues, there are covert and open contacts between the sides, assisted by intermediaries, in an attempt to keep the conflict on a low fire. However, in an area as explosive and problematic as the Middle East, one must take into account the possibility of a rapid decline due to exceptional circumstances, such as a large-scale terrorist attack or an attack on holy sites by extremists of either side. Either event could set off a total regional war.

Authors: Yoram Schweitzer is a staff member and researcher of The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (ICT). Dr. Shaul Shay is an ICT research fellow and lecturer at various universities.

  1. The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority has ordered the forces operating in the field to avoid shooting from Area A in order to prevent additional suffering to the Palestinian population. However, this order has not been put into operation in actual fact.
  2. In addition to the strategic terrorist attacks mentioned above, there was also a Palestinian suicide attack executed on a bicycle, as well as an attempt to detonate an explosives-laden boat against an Israeli naval vessel near Rafiah.
  1. Deputy Chief of Staff – General Moshe Yaalon, Maariv, 16.2.2001
  2. Oded Granot, Maariv, 16.2.2001, Roni Shaked, Yediot Ahronoth, 16.2.2001
  3. Shai Feldman, “October Crisis Intermediate Agreement,” Strategic Analyst, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, November 2000.
  4. Shibley Telhami, “Camp David 2, Assumptions and Consequences,” Current History, January 2001.
  5. Mark Heller, “Implications of the withdrawal from Lebanon on Israeli-Palestinian relations,” Strategic Analyst, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv University, June 2000.
  6. Shaul Shai, “History repeats itself, but not exactly,” Bamahane, 19.1.2001.
  7. There are those who today define the conflict as a low density (Lic) one or a Limited Conflict.
  8. Shai Feldman, “October Crisis Intermediate Agreement,” Strategic Analyst, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, November 2000.
  9. Shaul Shai, “History Repeats Itself, but not Exactly,” Bamahane, 19/1/2001.
  10. Definition of the urban strips according to Arnon Sofer, “The Future Battleground in the Middle East.” Maarchot, Vol. 368, December 2000.
  11. Russell W. Glenn, “Combat in Hell, A Consideration of Constrained Urban Warfare,” Arroyo Center, Rand, U.S.A. 1996 p-9.
  12. Uri Horowitz, “Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian State,” Strategic Analyst, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, November 2000.
  13. Roni Shaked, Yedioth Ahronoth, 16 February 2001.
  14. Augustus Richard Norton, “America’s Middle East Peace Crisis,” Current History, January 2001.
  15. Shibley Telhami, “Camp David 2 Assumptions and Consequences,” Current History, January 2001.
  16. Roni Shaked, Yedioth Ahronoth, 16 February 2001.
  17. Alex Fishman, Yedioth Ahronoth, 16 February 2001.
  18. Roni Shaked, Yedioth Ahronoth, 16 February 2001.
  19. The Tanzim are an armed militia affiliated with Fatah, directly under the control of the Chairman of the P.A., Yasser Arafat, and are designated to control internal conflicts in the Palestinian camp, particularly with regard to the Hamas as well as in confrontation situations with Israel.
  20. There are approximately 13 different security and intelligence systems in the Palestinian Authority and they are all under the command of Yasser Arafat, there is no clear chain of command between the various branches and there is usually competition between them.
  21. The term “strategic terrorism” refers to terror attacks which Israeli decision-makers consider as having the potential to change Israel’s reaction policy. (e.g. cessation of the peace talks or a strong military response).
  22. Briefing of reporters by O/C Central Command – Army spokesman’s announcement of 1st October 2000.
  23. Letter to Adv. Netta Amar of the Association for Citizens’ Rights, from Gen. Giora Ireland , Head of IDF Operations Branch, 2nd November, 00.
  24. B’tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – December, 2000 – Report P-4
  25. B’tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – December, 2000 – Report P-7
  26. Alex Fishman, Yedioth Ahronoth, 16th February 2001.
  27. Ibid, p-15
  28. Ibid, p-15
  29. Ibid, p-14
  30. Ibid, p-14-15
  31. Arafat instructed the Palestinian security forces and the Tanzim to refrain from shooting from residential areas in Area A, in order to avoid attacks against the Palestinian population, but this directive is not implemented.
  32. Uri Horowitz, “Camp David and President Clinton’s bridging proposals – the Palestinian version,” Strategic Analyst, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, January 2001.
  33. Army Spokesman’s announcement, 3rd October, 2001
  34. In accordance with the Oslo accords the areas in the West Bank and the Gaza strip are divided into three categories:
    Area – area under complete Palestinian control
    Area B - area under civilian Palestinian control and Israeli security control
    Area C - area under complete Israeli control
  35. International border crossings, according to the Oslo accords, are under Israeli security control. This is in effect with regard to the Dahanya Airport in Rafiah and the border crossings with Egypt and Jordan.
  36. Chris Hedges, “The New Palestinian Revolt” Foreign Affairs, January / February 2001. 124-138.
  37. Haaretz – 20.2.01
  38. Haaretz – 26.2.01
  39. See Note 19.