Israel: A Third Intifada?

The spate of knifings of Israelis, especially in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and parts of Israel, has inevitably led to a question of whether a third intifada is imminent. Perhaps surprisingly another intifada is unlikely when we look at the regional actors, their views and capabilities.

The Sunni Arab world (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt), while verbally supportive of the uprising, is strongly opposed to it behind the scenes. Jordan has been openly involved in trying to use video cameras on the Temple Mount to reduce tensions. The Sunnis see the violence as supported by Iran and its on again and off again ally Hamas. They now see Israel as a possible ally with a powerful military (replete with nuclear weapons) in their struggle with Iran.

Meanwhile the Shiite Arabs in Iran, Syria, Iraq,Yemen and Lebanon, while hostile to Israel, are bogged down in fighting with Sunni ISIS and fundamentalists. Hezbollah and Iran alone have several thousand fighters in the battle in Syria.

The Palestine Authority on the West Bank, led by Abu Mazan, is verbally committed to the uprising but in practice opposed. It fears that an intifada would benefit Hamas, which, with high poll ratings equal to that of Fatah, could seize control in the West Bank. Hamas charges that the Palestinian Authority, by accommodating Israel's night raids on the West Bank against Hamas, is aiding Israel. Too, the West Bank regime is heavily reliant financially on the United States and Europe which are opposed to a bloody intifada. The United States just cut 80 million dollars from its aid to the Abu Mazen regime to make this point very clearly.

Many Palestinians on the West Bank and the majority of East Jerusalem Arabs have much to lose if they support the violence. Almost 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel, where they earn on average slightly more than twice what they could make on the West Bank. Almost 90 percent of 300,000 East Jerusalem Arabs, although facing job discrimination, as Israeli permanent residents can travel anywhere and work in Israel. As residents of Israel they can vote in local elections, pay taxes, gain social security benefits, enjoy the rule of law, use a first rate universal health care system and access very good higher education. And 12 percent of East Jerusalem Arabs are actually Israeli citizens with all the attendant rights.

Israel has much experience from two previous intifadas in dealing with such violence. It has a strong internal security agency (Shin Bet) with extensive knowledge of local Arabs dating back to 1967 and even before 1948. Shin Beth has good relations with the Palestinian security forces and the 20,000 Arabs who work for it providing valuable intelligence.

Israel has a strong First World economy of $300 billion that dwarfs the Third World economy of the West Bank with less than $7 billion. The great majority of Israeli males (70 percent) have served in the military for at least three years and are combat trained. This gives them invaluable experience in confronting the terrorists. Fully 60 percent of women have served in the military for two years. The Israeli army has a reserve force of 420,000 men, another 80,000 men in its security force. Over 150,000 Israeli civilians have the government's permission to keep guns at home and now can carry them in the street.

Israelis are good in improvising solutions to protect themselves from terrorists. The most widely practised method is to stay home or avoid going out alone. The booming sale of pepper spray, tasers, tear gas, nightsticks and techniques developed by Israeli krav magen fighters reinforce their capability.

Finally, there is the degree of motivation on each side. For the older Palestinians, there are not only the benefits of Israeli society but the memory of the crushing of the second intifada over ten years ago. The teenagers and young people, who make up the bulk of those carrying out violence, are heavily amateurs without military experience. By contrast, the Israelis are much better educated, experienced and trained in the military and security forces to deal with attacks on civilians. The international and regional actors favor Israel.

The numbers after the first weeks are striking: 11 Israelis and 58 Palestinians killed. Given that the initiative lies with the Palestinian side choosing time, place and weapons for attack, the numbers say a lot.

The first Intifada led to Oslo I and Oslo talks between the two sides. The second intifada led to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. In the end politics will play a role -- but it probably won't occur soon in a world that is preoccupied with other crises in the Middle East.

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