The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Ride Again in Tel Aviv

Early this afternoon, on reading on Lyse Doucet‘s Twitter feed that Hamas had owned up to today’s bus bombing, I assessed that Hamas was making a big move.  Immediately, Avram Piha, a blogging colleague here at Times of Israel, suggested that it could have been someone else.  A wise man is our Avram, and we discussed the possibility that Fatah could, in a fiendishly clever move, blown up a bus in Tel Aviv to scupper the Gaza cease fire and get Israel to knock seven bells out of Hamas.  After all, after Israel and the entire Palestinian people the group who have most to gain from destroying Hamas are Fatah.

Now I read that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have claimed that they did the deed.  Which is to say that Fatah have claimed that they did the deed.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is an artifact of Fatah’s attempt to make the running in confronting Israel.  Just as the Fatah Hawks tried to take leadership of the original Intifadah, the Martyrs tried to be more Islamist and more suicidal than Hamas.  This is no small feat for a secularist group like Fatah.

Perhaps the only original achievement of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade was to introduce female suicide bombers to the region.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ sole purpose is to position Fatah as something other than a bunch of fat old men with Swiss bank accounts.

This means that the Tel Aviv bombing is not a sign that Hamas is conducting a final-phase Maoist move to open war against Israel.  It means instead that Abu Mazen and his friends are concerned that their tacit support of Israel against Hamas is ruining any revolutionary street cred that might have survived the generations since the PLO discovered that blowing stuff up could get you a seat at the UN.

Treating this terrorist act as something significant would reward Fatah for deploying their would-be Islamist fanatics, and aid Hamas by attacking their enemies, Fatah.  This means that the bombing needs to be brushed aside in aid of keeping Fatah nominally in charge of the West Bank in order to keep Hamas out.  Thankfully, the minor results from this bombing make that comparatively easy.

It will be painful to reward Abu Mazen for his costly quiescence while Hamas shoots rockets.  It will be even more painful for Mr Netanyahu to reward him after such a clear demonstration of the limits of his co-operation.  Yet, unless the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade carry on their attacks that is exactly what he must do.

It will be painful to reward Abu Mazen for his costly quiescence while Hamas shoots rockets.


This act demonstrates that the harsh barricading of Gaza, for which Israel pays a huge price internationally, is demonstrated to be proportionate and justified.  It also demonstrates that the harsh barricading of the West Bank is not as effective as one might wish.  Police investigation of the bombing will be politically charged insofar as it will determine whether the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade cell that conducted the operation was supported across the wire separating Israel from the PA.

Hamas is an effective insurgency, but current operations show that the authority against which it battles is the Palestinian Authority, not so much Israel. Killing Israeli Jews is part of the fight, but more incidental and theoretical than practical and tactical

Abu Mazen (whom I insist on calling by his terrorist nom de guerre) is one of the last relics of the old PLO.  Lording it over Palestinians in Jordan, over Shi’a in Lebanon or stashing Saudi cash in Switzerland while Machine Gun Fawzi and the boys hijacked European airliners is really his metier.  One day he will die, no doubt succumbing to some imagined Israeli plot, and be replaced.  If Fatah is to continue to run the PA he will have to be replaced by somebody simultaneously effective at running a state and able to work with Israel as a respected enemy.  Abu Mazen’s replacement will also have to defeat Hamas.

To this point Israel has, for obvious reasons, supported Fatah and opposed Hamas.  Israel probably has to continue to support the evil of two lessers, but with an eye to creating a Palestine that will be able to put its victimhood in perspective and stop chucking bombs.  That means that the first task for Abu Mazen’s successor will be to establish credibility by leading Palestinians instead of blowing up Israelis.

About the Author
Dr Lynette Nusbacher is a strategist and devil's advocate. She is Principal at Nusbacher & Associates, a strategy consultancy. She has been a senior national security official in the United Kingdom, was Senior Lecturer in War Studies at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and served as a military intelligence officer.