James Gurd is Executive Director of Conservative Friends of Israel.

News of the brutal terror attack at a busy bar in the heart of Tel Aviv broke during CFI’s first parliamentary delegation since the pandemic. The attack was the fourth such incident in little over a week – the deadliest in 15 years. Our week had been shaped by an inescapable question – was this the beginning of a Third Intifada?

Israelis have an inbuilt resilience. You will be hard pressed to find an Israeli that wasn’t affected in some way by the hundreds of Palestinian terror attacks during the Second Intifada of 2000-2005 which killed over a thousand.

There is a growing feeling that something is again brewing, but there appear to be different dynamics currently at play in this long-running conflict.

The night of the Tel Aviv attack I was out and about along Jerusalem’s main Jaffa Street. The security presence was palpable and the city felt unusually quiet – a far cry from previous visits. Police cars patrolled the streets methodically at short intervals and armed police and soldiers were ever present.

The scene will have been similar across much of the country and is likely to continue for another few weeks yet as Israel experiences a rare confluence of three major religious festivals – Passover, Ramadan and Easter.

Ramadan has historically been a time of increased tensions, and the overlap with Passover and Easter has certainly added to the combustibility of this period. The approaching one-year anniversary of Israel’s latest conflict with the Hamas terror group, as well as Israel’s Independence Day (May 5), will likely serve as additional flashpoints down the line. This period of tension will not be abating any time soon.

But why now? Traditional secular nationalist-driven Palestinian terrorism has been taking on a more religiously motivated dimension in recent years. This week, religious fervour led to the desecration of Joseph’s Tomb – a holy Jewish and Muslim site – by Palestinian protestors.

A competing mix of terror groups have claimed responsibility for the latest wave of violence. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and even Fatah – the more secular party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – have all sought to take credit. While from disparate political backgrounds, they are collectively forcing a religiously driven narrative calling for the ‘liberation’ of Jerusalem and defence of the al-Aqsa Mosque in response to falsified claims of Israeli designs for Islam’s third holiest site. This will be resonating more strongly during the month of Ramadan.

The rhetoric has been dramatically amplified across Palestinian social media with viral videos and graphics calling for violence reportedly rife.

The response of Israel’s security forces have been doubly hampered. Firstly, its long-term failure to address gun smuggling into the West Bank and Arab Israeli towns. While these weapons are primarily for criminal purposes, they are readily available and the Tel Aviv attacker reportedly acquired his own following a domestic dispute with a fellow Palestinian in his town of Jenin. Portions of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank have also been porous of late with many illegal workers entering Israel unchecked. Fatefully, attackers have exploited the same security weaknesses. Israel is now in a race to repair the many hundreds of damaged sections.

While the religious dynamic has become more prominent in recent years, Israel seems to have been less prepared for the possibility of attacks claimed by so-called Islamic State. The Jewish State hasn’t been a major focus of the group and yet two of the recent attacks were undertaken by Arabs living within Israel that had pledged allegiance to the group. The long-term threat posed by IS is likely overstated with the attackers believed to be lone wolves, but it adds to an already challenging security situation for Israel.

Religious unrest had been anticipated but the scale of it was seemingly unanticipated by Israel. Jordan – custodian of the holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem – had publicly hosted senior Israeli ministers ahead of the holidays and the two countries had been closely and publicly coordinating. Israel, for its part, has waived permit restrictions for tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount throughout Ramadan. Israeli officials made no change to this policy in the wake of the attacks, perhaps mindful not to play into Hamas’s presentation of any perceived Israeli restriction on access to al-Aqsa Mosque as a call to arms.

While there may currently be no specific terror group coordinating the attacks, Hamas has sensed an opportunity and dialled up its rhetoric over Jerusalem and calls for violence. As it did during the conflict last May, Hamas is agitating to use violence as its way of telling the Palestinian street that they are the only body able to stand up against Israel. A religious conflict with cold political calculations.

It still seems unlikely that the group will initiate another round of conflict from the Gaza Strip as it is still rebuilding after Israel delivered a heavy blow to its military capabilities last year. Hamas is even understood to be preventing rival terror groups – including Palestinian Islamic Jihad – from launching rockets into Israel.

Hamas is though willing to unleash its extensive network of cells across the West Bank. A strategy of arms length violence works well for the group as it looks to jointly deliver fatal blows across Israel and threaten the rule of its fierce rival, the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority which governs the West Bank. As ever in the Middle East, Iran is usually no more than one-degree of separation away from any instability and as one of the Islamic Republic’s premier terror franchises it is likely that Hamas is being encouraged to agitate again now.

While itself calling for religiously-motivated violence, the PA is also playing another game. The PA is vehemently opposed to Hamas strengthening its position in the West Bank through a campaign of violence. 17 years into his four-year term, President Abbas and his PA old-guard are deeply unpopular among Palestinians for their well-documented corruption and there is a growing sense of malaise exacerbated by high-unemployment and stalled peace process.

President Abbas may have been applauded by some commentators for his condemnation of two recent terror attacks – albeit under pressure from Jordan and the U.S. – but his Fatah party hasn’t hesitated to celebrate the attacks and their perpetrators. The families of the ‘martyrs’ are even set to be honoured with financial support; one of the deplorable practices which may have led the UK to recently freeze its aid to the PA.

Despite this, Israel is working with the PA’s UK-trained security services to stamp out the shared threat posed by Hamas-driven violence but appear to be having mixed success.

Much of the focus has been on the northern Palestinian city of Jenin – the heartlands of Palestinian Islamic Jihad – where the perpetrators of two recent attacks came from. Regarded as the “capital of resistance” by Palestinians during the Second Intifada due to the many suicide bombers who came from the town, it has again become a hotbed for PIJ fighters after the PA appeared to lose control of the area in recent years.

It is a combustible situation that Hamas looks set to exploit, and will likely spread elsewhere in the West Bank and into Jerusalem.

The uncertainty over what happens next is looming large. There is a great deal at stake for regional stability in the tense days ahead. While Israelis contend with that inescapable and fraught question over a possible Third Intifada, the world is rightly focused on the Russian onslaught in Ukraine. If events continue to escalate though it may not be long be another international crisis erupts. As ever in the Middle East, unpredictability is the only predictable thing.