The latest terror attacks in Jerusalem are exposing a fatal flaw in Israel’s armor that needs to be addressed immediately to save lives. A national guard of trained volunteers, deployed in city centers under the Israeli Police, can prevent the next attack.
Israel has no lack of security intelligence, having developed world-class capabilities in this area over the years. Unlike some other countries, the intelligence-gathering components of Israel’s various security arms – IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, Police – maintain the commendable practice of pooling resources and delivering intelligence, even if it won’t directly benefit one specific organization.
The Israeli defense establishment has formidable tools it needs to nab a terrorist in his bed the night before a planned attack or to trigger a red alert over an imminent bombing at a Tel Aviv restaurant, getting it right more than 9 times out of 10. In many cases, Israel has also provided real-time and life-saving intelligence to various countries about imminent attacks on western targets. Over the years, Israel has even thwarted Iranian plots to target Israeli civilians abroad, relying on extremely accurate intelligence and close working relations with friendly police forces abroad.
However, during the past year and a half, more than 20 Israeli civilians have been killed in terror attacks inside Israel, attacks that the vaunted Israeli security establishment all failed to stop. The common denominator of all these last fatal attacks was that the perpetrators were not affiliated with any significant organization and acted alone or almost alone. In doing so, they were able to evade detection while moving freely, using their Israeli identification papers. They obtained pistols or assault rifles on the black market or taught themselves how to make explosives in chemistry lessons at Israeli universities, and then outsmarted what today is perhaps the world’s most formidable counter-terror establishment.
The majority of the attackers were Israeli Arabs, who benefited from the liberties of life in Israel, but were radicalized at home or in Palestinian Authority schools in East Jerusalem. And, significantly, all of those terrorists were subdued on-site by armed Israeli civilians or police officers who happened to be nearby at the time, saving countless other civilians.
It is time for the Israeli defense establishment to adapt to this growing phenomenon of so-called “lone-wolf” attackers and field immediate and effective countermeasures. The fact that “the assailant had no prior terror-related record and acted on his own” is no longer an acceptable excuse. Based on the conclusions of the last year’s attacks and an assessment of future trends, we can assume that this type of attack will only spread unless stopped. With each successful attack against Israeli civilians, a new Palestinian attacker is born, and the sense of security of Israelis erodes. We should strive for the opposite.
For more than a year, the Israel Defense and Security Forum, in close coordination with the Ministry of Internal Security, has been promoting the creation of an Israeli national guard precisely to combat this wave of attacks and minimize its impact on Israelis. The national guard, inspired by American and various European models, will be a paramilitary unit under the command of the Israeli National Police, manned by volunteers and designed to provide the critical mass of presence and deterrence specifically against the type of attackers that our intelligence-based system fails to detect.
Just as street crime in New York was eradicated under Mayor Giuliani by posting a police officer on every block, we must fight terror on every corner, and numbers are key. Despite overwhelming willingness by volunteers to join its ranks, the Israeli Police and Border Police are still missing at least 1,500 men and women to field the first brigades of the national guard, mainly due to red tape and procedural delays.
The national guard will promote security at all times. In routine times, national guard units will assist the Police and IDF by patrolling our cities and providing strength and deterrence through numbers. They may not be able to thwart each and every attack, but they will surely lower the casualty numbers and end attacks sooner. Countless attacks will be avoided thanks to a strong visible presence of security personnel at key locations. In times of serious unrest or fighting, like in May 2021, when violence erupted in mixed cities all across Israel, the National Guard will be deployed in order to enforce law and order and ensure the critical freedom of movement of security forces and emergency personnel.
We cannot waste another day in fielding a decisive response to this wave of terror against Israeli civilians. The national guard, under the Israeli Border Police, is part of the solution and should be staffed, equipped, trained and deployed immediately.