Saturday’s arrest of three Palestinian youths who planned a large-scale terror attack demonstrates for the umpteenth time — and especially well in this case — the importance of the ongoing security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. You often hear this or that politician dismiss such achievements by claiming “they need it more than we do,” a reference to the PA’s clear interest in security coordination in order to survive its bloody rivalry with Hamas. This claim is accurate but incomplete. It’s true that the Authority needs security coordination with Israel, but it must also be said that no small number of Israelis, including soldiers and settlers, owe their lives to the Palestinian security forces.
Such an assertion sounds almost surreal in light of the incitement by the Palestinian Authority that raged in the early months of the “Lone Wolf Intifada.” But it’s hard to argue with facts and figures. And the fact is that even during these past six months, Palestinian security forces have managed to foil dozens — some say hundreds — of attacks on Israeli targets, preventing loss of life.
Indeed, the attack averted Saturday with the arrest of the cell is a telling example. These were three youths who came from three different West Bank locations and met up in Ramallah: Basel Mahmoud Ala’raj of al-Walaja, near Jerusalem, Mohammed Abdullah Harb of Jenin, and Haytham Sayaj, a Hebron resident temporarily living in the Qalandiya refugee camp. The three, who were apparently given explicit instructions on how to compartmentalize their information and maintain secrecy, attempted to carry out these orders, though not with great success: When they tried to get rid of their identity cards, mobile phones and a laptop, they were rather careless and harebrained about it: a cleaner in Ramallah found all their personal belongings strewn on a city street in the city.
And yet, clumsiness aside, it’s clear that if the three went to the trouble of ditching their ID cards and mobile phones, it means they were highly motivated and were preparing for a suicide attack, or what,during the Second Intifada, came to be called a “sacrifice attack,” in which it’s clear that the chances of coming back alive are extremely low. It is also evident that this was no “spontaneous organization,” or act decided upon overnight, but one that was planned by a more organized infrastructure that took care to bring the trio together at some point and supply them with the relevant weaponry. When they were captured in an open area north of Ramallah, they were carrying hand grenades, as well as supplies for an extended stay in the field.
For now, suspicion falls on Hamas, which has attempted to carry out dozens of attacks over the past half year, including within the Green Line. The organization issued a statement condemning the arrest, and its spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, called reports of cooperation between the Palestinian security apparatus and Israel around the detention cell a “dangerous development.” Still, despite criticism from the Palestinian public and Islamic opposition, security coordination is being maintained more than ever — at least for the time being. And Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is not trying to conceal this coordination and declares at every opportunity that he intends to keep it up — at least for the time being.
And what about the reactions in Israel? Try imagining for a moment the response if the Shin Bet had released a statement saying that “following intensive intel gathering” and in coordination with elite iDF forces, it had managed to prevent a major terror attack and capture three armed terrorists on their way to carrying out the attack. The story would most likely have been that morning’s top headlines, with in-depth coverage. We would have heard numerous accounts of the bravery of the soldiers who knew they were setting out to stop armed and dangerous terrorists. The politicians would be telling us that the arrest demonstrates the necessity of continued IDF operations in Palestinian cities. However, because the attack was foiled by the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatuses, Israeli media, especially print, overwhelmingly chose to ignore the incident.
To be fair, it should be noted that at least one news agency linked to the Settlement enterprise actually did report the arrest of the cell. The problem is they left out one little detail: That the three were arrested by PA security services.