As Israelis were still mourning the tragedy of the Ofra terrorist attack, another shooting portended further repercussions. Both attacks were drive-by shootings, which may indicate that the Ofra shooting has spawned a new tactical trend amongst Palestinian terrorists. How such trends develop is not just a concern of Israelis. The global community should also be aware of this potential practical and propagandistic development, as Islamists worldwide could adopt the tactic as well.
On December 9th, the 7th night of Hanukkah, a few Israelis were waiting for a bus outside of Ofra. Shooting as they drove by, terrorists injured several of the people at the bus stop. Amongst the victims were a young pregnant woman and her husband. Despite doctors’ best efforts, including an emergency c-section, the couple’s baby passed away as a result of the mother’s injuries. The horror of this crime already makes it difficult to forget. However, depending on the next few months, the attack may be remembered for an additional horrific reason.
On the 13th of December, just 4 days later, another drive-by shooting occurred in the disputed territories. As of the writing of this analysis, 2 Israelis have been killed, and 2 more have been injured. The repeated methodology of the attack may be worth taking note. Future attacks may follow the same template.
Two broad aspects should be considered when discussing the development of new tactical terrorist trends. One is the propaganda aspect, and the other is the practical.
The so-called “stabbing intifada” in 2015-2016 did not begin with stabbings. It began with a variety of other terrorist attacks, and calls for violence by both Abbas and Hamas. However, the wave of violence took on the “stabbing” characteristic after a successful knife attack. The use of a knife had both propagandic and practical merits. The knife was a personal weapon, easily obtained from a kitchen, and therefore could invoke the narrative of popular resistance and the personal struggle of Palestinians. Further attackers invoked the name of other stabbers, suggesting influence and inspiration from their predecessors. The knife became featured heavily in terrorist propaganda, memes, and cartoons. To this point, it is difficult to determine how much the stabbing attacks inspired the propaganda, and how much the propaganda inspired the stabbing attacks. What is certain is that success played a part in that cycle. The use of easily accessible knives to mobilize lone wolves allowed for force multiplication for terrorist actors. Knives also allowed for concealment and deception to ensure engagement. These attacks were difficult to avoid, and the Israeli security services took a while before they were able to develop counter-measures. Of course, once these measures came into place, the learning competition pushed terrorists to develop and popularize ramming attacks. While the name of the violence wave did not change, the ramming attack became the tactic of choice in propaganda and practice. What is relevant for the rest of the world is that both the stabbing and ramming tactics were soon also adopted by ISIS and unaffiliated Islamists in Europe and beyond. Europe saw a series of deadly stabbing attacks, and then a series of rammings. It seems all but certain that Palestinian terrorist tactics became popularized enough that their trends globalized. The concern is that the drive-by shooting tactic has similar indicators as a potentially developing tactical trend.
The Ofra shooter was killed by IDF forces on December 12th. While Hamas had previously praised the act of terror, it hadn’t taken responsibility. This changed with the Ofra terrorist’s death. Hamas claimed he was a member of their organization, though it didn’t elaborate how much of a role it supposedly had. Hamas must have seen a value in tying its name to the attack. It could be that they sensed the potential of the tactic as a propaganda item. Soon after the shooter’s death and Hamas’ announcement, the December 13th drive-by occurred. While there are currently no cartoons or memes glorifying drive-bys, the chronological proximity between the two terrorist attacks’ main events raise concern of influence and inspiration of the first on the second. The “martyrdom” of the Ofra terrorist may have served as a trigger, as we saw the death and praise of stabbers do in 2015. Another relevant factor in terrorist tactical trends, as previously mentioned in the context of stabbings, is success.
The drive-by tactic has practical elements that allow it to circumvent counter-measures for both stabbing and ramming attacks. To prevent knife attacks, soldiers, while also making sure that they were also watching out for each other, were sent to guard sensitive sites. Checkpoints increased focus on searching for knives. Barriers were established between soldiers and those passing through those checkpoints. A stabber can usually only engage a single victim at a time. The close proximity of multiple soldiers can allow for quicker response and fewer terrorism casualties. With a physical or doctrinal barrier, the attacker’s actions are more openly indicated, and additionally are slowed down. Ramming attacks have been foiled by the installation of cement pillars around sensitive sites. Vehicles used as weapons crash into these obstacles and prevent pedestrians from being run over. This last counter-measure was also adopted in Europe to address their own problems with terrorist tactics.
Unfortunately, the learning competition rarely ends. Drive-by shootings don’t require its implementor to climb over barriers, physically engage targets, or focus attention on a single target. On the contrary, the presence of multiple soldiers result in a higher likelihood of casualties. The attacker doesn’t need to get close to use a firearm, so the barriers don’t present a hurdle. Additionally, a drive-by is an attack that doesn’t require its implementer to stop, which is often a sudden and abrupt consequence of ramming with a vehicle. A drive-by terrorist would also have a better chance to escape and fight again at a later date. Indeed, neither of this week’s shooters were neutralized at the scene of the attack. The success of this development is the tragic loss of a baby and two young adults, and success invites replication.
Drive-by terrorist attacks have shown practical and propagandist value. It remains to be seen whether the tactic serves as a complete replacement for rammings and stabbings as a favoured tactic, but the events of this week display many warning signs. If drive-bys begin to be featured in terrorist propaganda posters and cartoons, or further drive-bys are conducted, the IDF should begin to implement tactical and technological counter-measures specifically for that tactic. Abroad, European and American security officials should begin to do the same, lest ISIS emulate Hamas yet again.
The terrorist attacks this week were especially horrific. Hopefully no further tragedy will develop from them.