Vehicular attacks can be stopped, experts say
As France mourned the 84 dead and more than 200 wounded in the attack in Nice, an alert security guard in Jerusalem foiled a potential attack on Jerusalem’s light rail train, when he spotted a suspicious man loitering near the train stop, and demanded he open his knapsack. When the man refused, the security guard arrested him, and found three pipe bombs inside.
It was yet another example of Israel’s success in stopping terrorist attacks, and minimizing casualties when they do occur.
Vehicular attacks, like the one perpetrated in Nice, have been a fixture in Jerusalem and the West Bank for years. In 2014 a Palestinian rammed his car into a light rail stop in Jerusalem, killing a three-month old baby and a young Ecuadoran woman. Just weeks ago, a similar attack in the West Bank wounded three soldiers.
“Israel has been proven as the model of imitation for other terrorists around the world,” Boaz Ganor, the Executive Director of the Institute for Counter-terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) of Herzylia, told the Media Line. “There is a difference between prevention of terrorist attacks and limiting the consequences.”
Preventing terror attacks depends on prior intelligence – a challenge when terrorists act alone.
“The problem with (this kind of ) intelligence is that the initiation, the planning and the execution start and end with the sick mind of one person,” Ganor said. “In these cases traditional intelligence is useless.”
However, he said, counter-terrorism in these cases must focus more on social media. Terrorists often post their intentions. Reports in the British press say that the attacker in Nice posted “I have the material” hours before the bombing. He also reportedly sent over $100,000 to his family in Tunisia just days before the attack.
Another difference between Israel and France is that Israelis are constantly aware of the possibility of terrorism. Anyone who has left a bag or a backpack unattended knows that often within seconds people will ask, “Who does this bag belong to?” Many Israeli civilians have also served in the army, meaning they have had military training, and many carry personal weapons for protection.
All of that together makes it likely that an attacker would not have been able to drive into people for more than a mile without being stopped.
Other Israeli analysts say that a similar attack could happen in Israel, although it is less likely than in France.
“The truck was very big and the protection and security in France was very poor,” Reuven Ehrlich, a terrorism expert at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center told The Media Line. “The combination between a big truck, a terrorist who is ready to be killed in such an attack, and a lot of people without any protection caused a mass killing.”
When stopped, the attacker said he was carrying ice cream, but he was never asked to open the back of the truck. In addition, press reports say there were only 105 policemen responsible for the security of 30,000 people at the Bastille Day event.
France also has a large number of fighters who have returned from Syria, who have been radicalized to carry out attacks. Israeli terrorism experts say that France must move quickly to secure events with a much larger police presence. But it is the public that can offer the most security.
“The Israeli public is aware of its surroundings and of suspicious cars and behavior,” Boaz Ganor said. “A truck like this in a crowded place would raise people’s suspicions. A lot can be done to educate Europeans about preventing terrorism.”
The Institute he heads is currently holding a three-week intensive course in counter-terrorism for professionals from around the world.