The Idea of a “Lone Wolf” Terrorist is a Joke

Saying that a terrorist acted alone is no doubt convenient for the Israeli government. It allows it to shy away from the hard questions and the difficult conclusions that might be reached otherwise.

Arabs rioting on the temple Mount. A society incited to hate (Photo - Sliman Khader/Flash 90)

Is there such a thing as a “Lone Wolf” terrorist? 

A “Lone Wolf” terrorist is one that acts on its own without the support of a terrorist organization for logistics, weapons or indoctrination. The terrorist coordinated and executed the attack by itself, usually without telling anyone. While “Lone Wolf” terrorist phenomenon has occurred in various places – most notably Theodore John Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, and Timothy Mcveigh, who blew up the Oklahoma federal buildings – the use of the concept in Israel obscures a much deeper problem and prevents the army and our elected officials from addressing the core of the issue. 

The last two terrorist attacks in Israel, the murder of Ari Fuld in Gush Etzion and the attack at the Barkan Industrial area, are considered to be terrorists who attacked on their own – “Lone Wolves”. Veteran defense writer for Walla, Amir Bohbot, writes that defense officials  are convinced that Ashraf Abu-sacha, who killed Ziv Hagabi and Kim Yechezkel in Barkan, acted alone. That being the case, we can expect the army to apprehend the terrorist and, if caught alive, he will likely be sentenced to life in prison, maybe his house will be demolished, end of story.

And this is exactly the problem.

These terrorists considered ‘Lone Wolves’ are that only in practical terms, since they emanate from a culture and society which has been keeping incitement to attack Israel on a low burner for the past 25 years, ever so slightly raising the temperature when necessary and going full steam when terror attacks served their purpose.

At the outset of the Oslo Accords, Arab-Palestinian media was limited to television, newspaper and radio, controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the incitement was broadcast from there. 25 years later, incitement to attack Israel is all over the web and social media, emanating from random individuals which have soaked in and absorbed the culture of hate and violence toward Israel provoked by the PA and perpetuated by their society. Thus we experience over the last decade a rise in the perpetration of so called “Lone Wolf ” terrorist attacks in Israel.

By calling certain terrorists  ‘Lone Wolf’ or ‘a lone terrorist’, defense officials will never be able to appropriately address the problem, because the attack will be treated as a criminal investigation and closed once the terrorist is apprehended.

On the other hand, saying that the problem is hate education emanating from the PA, which no doubt is a contributing factor, ignore the reality of a larger prevailing problem. For the 70 years of the existence of the modern State of Israel and in the period that preceded it, we have been witness to the same type of vicious attacks from our Muslim neighbors living among us. What is it that causes these attacks? Is it the failed peace process – because these types of attacks happened before that? Is it our presence in Judea and Samaria – because countless Israelis were murdered by terrorists before that? Was it the establishment of the State of Israel – because the Hebron massacre in 1929 for instance preceded that? What is the root of this problem? What is it about our Muslim neighbors which can’t accept our existence?

Saying that a terrorist acted alone is no doubt convenient for the government. It allows it to shy away from the hard questions and the difficult conclusions that might be reached otherwise. Yet, it is possible that our government, for political or other reasons, may not want to address the root of the problem. In the book of Judges, the Jewish people faced difficult situations as they continued to settle the land. A Jewish leader would subsequently rise up or be chosen and lead the Jews to victory. In some cases, this would lead to 40 years of quiet, sometimes 80 years. In our modern day Israel, can we have 10 years of quiet, maybe 20 years? If the root of the problem can’t be solved, is there an in between solution?

In the 1970’s the Arabs feared the Israeli border police so much that some would even walk to the other side of the street when seeing one. Today, the Ahed Tamimi video serves as a succinct example of what has happened since then.  Whenever a holiday is approaching in Israel, a closure is declared on the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria during the course of the holiday. Why is that? Could it be that there are some times during the year where Israeli safety is paramount, and other times not? Are there times during the year when, well, let’s just say it would be very inconvenient for there to be a terrorist attack in any part of Israel?

Eight months ago, Raziel Shevach was murdered by terrorists on his way home. After the terrorists were apprehended, Prime Minister Netanyahu remarked: “Security forces will get to anyone who tries to harm Israeli citizens, and we will see that justice is served … I told Rabbi Raziel Shevach’s wife that we would get to the murderers, and last night the mission was completed.” Defense Minister Lieberman said: “The account has been settled. I praise the IDF, Shin Bet, and Israel Police on their successful operation…”  Yet, Shevach’s wife, Yael, felt a little different: “I understand the desire for account-settling, but when it comes with another killing, we haven’t solved the problem. So one person has been killed, what about the ones still waiting to kill another Jew?”

Astonishingly enough, the same discourse played itself out a month later when the terrorist who stabbed Itamar Ben Gal to death was apprehended. After the terrorist’s capture, Defense Minister Lieberman expressed satisfaction, saying: “We’ve come full circle. Let every murderous terrorist know we will get to him and settle the score with him. I congratulate the security forces…”

Kind of rings hollow, doesn’t it? Here again, the widow Miriam Ben Gal had a different take: “Truthfully, I don’t feel anything. It won’t bring (Itamar) back home. And it won’t prevent another terrorist from rising and murdering again and destroying another family.” Could it be that Yael Shevach and Miriam Ben Gal, regular citizens with no security background, understand what the Defense Minister and Prime Minister fail to understand? They both know that the problem is much deeper, but our elected officials don’t know, or choose to ignore it?

We need to stop burying our dead and receiving hugs from our elected officials.

We must not allow our elected officials to use the deceptive phrase ‘lone terrorist’ or ‘acting alone’. Its usage is not only a disservice to the Israeli people, but a kind of dereliction of duty. The Israeli government must face the hard questions and it’s long overdue to address the driving factor for this unending hatred.

If the security cabinet or defense apparatus is unwilling to do that, they should ask themselves what are the means necessary to achieve quiet. Just as quiet can be reached for two weeks, it can also be reached for two months and two years.  The Israeli people deserve elected officials who will make the hard decision needed to defeat this problem. This should be done with urgency; an urgency where our elected officials feel like the next victim could be from their own family.

Like maggots growing out of stale food, the next terrorist is growing and being groomed in the society where hate and violence persist. Our elected officials need to be asking how they break the soul of this brutal violence, nothing less.


Gideon Israel is the President of the Jerusalem Washington Center and can be contacted at

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2 comments on the article

  1. When it comes to the hate speach that encourages terror attacks, especially ob Sicial media the Govornment feels it is mire constrained politically and leaves it up to pro Israel NGOs. Abbas’ incitement is at a political level as well and he has platforms at the UN where many countries support his false rhetoric against Israel. Of cause the terrorists when caught are interoggated and many families have lost their homes. But unless the those who perpetrate these crimes admit to being trained and equiped by others, the real cause of action is to defend Israel in the media and this is what family members of terror victims can do. The Govenment should and does internalize these attacks in order to prevent the next one. One needs to understand is that the PAs culture of hatred is part of their warfare against the state of Israel.