June 10, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: Tel Aviv Under Fire

• On June 8, two Palestinian gunmen opened fire in a popular Tel Aviv café in the popular Sarona Market, killing four Israelis and wounding at least six more

• The attack was the deadliest in a wave of stabbings and shootings that began in October 2015, most of which were carried out by lone attackers

• The recent wave of terrorist attacks in Israel demonstrates that no matter how stringent security measures are, low-tech weaponry and tactics still allow committed terrorists to carry out deadly attacks

• Though the ultimate goal of counterterrorism efforts is to prevent attacks altogether, law enforcement and security forces must be trained and prepared to rapidly and effectively respond to attacks when they do occur.


There are few countries in the world that face as persistent a terrorist threat as Israel. On June 8, a crowded outdoor market area in Tel Aviv became the site of the most recent in a wave of unsophisticated terrorist attacks in Israel that began in October 2015. The attackers, a pair of Palestinian cousins from a town in the Israel-occupied West Bank, disguised themselves as restaurant patrons before reportedly opening fire with automatic weapons on a crowd of civilians. Israeli security forces—who have significant experience responding to active assailant situations—were able to rapidly respond to the incident, wounding one attacker and arresting the other. Despite the swift response, four Israelis were killed and at least six others were wounded. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Stringent Israeli security measures have made sophisticated attacks involving explosives increasingly difficult to carry out, forcing terrorists to resort to less sophisticated tactics, involving knives and firearms. Since the beginning of 2016, at least 32 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks, and nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces—a number of whom were killed while attempting to carry out attacks. Though the wave of attacks that began in October had largely subsided, the June 8 attack has sparked fears of renewed violence. The response from both sides will likely only serve to exacerbate tensions. Following the attack, Hamas issued statements praising the attackers, and a Fatah spokesman called it a natural response to violence from the Israeli state. Israel, for its part, responded by suspending Ramadan entry permits for 83,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and deployed two additional battalions to the West Bank. 

Faced with a terrorist threat that has spanned decades, Israel provides the international community with a case study on responses to terrorist incidents, in terms of tactical response and post-attack resilience. As European countries face an unprecedented regional terror threat emanating from the so-called Islamic State, they are seeking to tighten security measures to the highest degree possible; important lessons can be learned from the Israeli experience. With some of the most stringent anti-terror security measures in the world, Israel has drastically reduced the ability of terrorists to conduct sophisticated attacks within the country—even limiting the potency of improvised explosives. Nonetheless, committed terrorists tend to be nimble and adaptive, and as security measures are enhanced, terrorists adjust tactics accordingly. Though less sophisticated, low-tech tactics such as edged weapons, firearms, and motor vehicles may not allow attackers to inflict the same level of carnage as high-powered explosives, they have the ability to kill even in the face of enhanced security measures. Furthermore, such tactics can still have an incredibly destabilizing psychological impact on the target population.

As terrorist tactics have evolved, so too have Israeli security forces in their planning and response to terrorist incidents. Israel maintains a large, highly-visible security and law enforcement presence in population centers. These security forces are well-trained and equipped to rapidly respond to active assailant situations. In any terrorist incident in which attackers are actively engaged in killing, the most critical law enforcement or security function is to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible. As demonstrated in the June 8 attack, Israeli security personnel have mastered rapid response to an active threat, limiting the number of fatalities to four—despite the attackers’ use of automatic weapons in a crowded area.

Given the threats to the Euro 2016 soccer tournament in France—set to begin on June 10—French authorities may seek to model their deployment of 90,000 security personnel around Israel’s proven track record of terrorist incident response. Though French and European counterterrorism officials are working tirelessly to ensure that no terrorist plot becomes operational during the tournament, the large security force must be prepared to rapidly respond to and mitigate any potential incident that may occur.


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