It was the night of June 1, 2001. Scores of teenagers queued outside the Dolphinarium nightclub on the long stretch of road running along the Mediterranean Sea from the old north of Tel Aviv down to the historic port of Jaffa. After the homely Friday night Sabbath dinners had concluded, the youngsters had set aside the sacramental wine for something more potent and headed for one of the city’s most popular nightspots.
Saeed Hotari, a 22-year-old observant Muslim from the West Bank, looked out of place. He paced alongside the queuing youngsters, dressed as an Orthodox Jew among the secular late-night revellers, while beating a drum discordantly.
“Something’s going to happen,”
he was heard to remark. Strapped to his body was an explosive charge. Loaded into the drum were hundreds of screws and ball bearings.
“I was about to enter, and suddenly I looked in the direction of the blast and saw people thrown backward,”
a witness recalled.
“I saw parts of a brain, things I have never seen before. It was terrible.”
Just before 11.30pm, Hotari detonated the bomb. In a mere moment, the scene was transformed from what could easily have been mistaken for the Gold Coast on a Saturday night into a rendering from Dante’s Inferno. Pools of blood, bodies literally ripped into pieces, survivors staggering amid the smoke and carnage in a deathly daze. Twenty-five people were murdered that night, the majority of them teenage girls.
The terrorist’s father Hassan said he wished that he had 20 more sons to die while slaughtering Israeli kids.
Palestinian factions practically tripped over one another to claim responsibility for the devastation. Eventually it was revealed that the attack had been planned by Husam Badran, a Hamas commander in the West Bank.
He was quickly captured by Israeli security forces before being released a few years later in a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians, compounding the torment of the victims and their families.
And now on the evening of Wednesday, June 8, 2016, two Palestinian cousins from the Hebron area in the West Bank travel to the heart of Tel Aviv, dressed in sharp dark suits, crisp white shirts and skinny ties, perfect Tel Aviv business-chic. They sit down in a Max Brenner coffee shop in the popular Sarona shopping complex. They produce firearms and start shooting into the crowd. At least four people are shot dead, several more fight for their lives including an infant girl.
A spokesman for Hamas, eerily bearing the same name as the architect of the Dolphinarium bombing, Husam Badran, hailed the attack, noting that Hamas vowed to turn the Islamic holy month of Ramadan into a new season of terror for Israelis.
This latest terror attack comes just days after reports that Hamas had deepened its ties with Islamic State through its affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula.
The group now known as Sinai Province pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014 and since that time has carried out a series of sophisticated and devastating attacks targeting Egyptian troops in the region and bringing down a Russian jet in October 2014, killing 224 people.
The alliance is a complex one. Hamas maintains a vice-like grip on all aspects of life in the territory it controls and would see the rise of a rival Islamist movement as a threat to its own power.
Hamas has a history of dealing with its political opponents with a singular malevolence. Defenestration and the blowing apart of kneecaps are among the more creative methods of stifling dissent that the group has routinely employed.
But Hamas and Islamic State also share a pathology that makes them natural allies. Both groups have chosen terrifying brutality as a means of suppressing dissent and advancing their interests, and share a political program steeped in religious ultra-orthodoxy.
The burgeoning relationship between Hamas and Islamic State has involved joint weapons smuggling operations and has seen Hamas operatives travel to the Sinai to conduct training in the firing of antitank missiles.
Perhaps the training has been reciprocal. While Hamas has been teaching Islamic State how to fight conventional forces, Islamic State may well be inspiring Hamas to pursue a new wave of suburban commando operations, which have devastated cities such as Istanbul, Paris and Brussels. The Tel Aviv attack certainly differs markedly from the stabbings and suicide bombings that have already afflicted Israeli civilians for decades.
Equally disturbing is the state of the Palestinian street. Sweets were distributed by jubilant Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza in honour of the latest killings, as has become the custom in Palestinian society.
At the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City, Arab residents cheered as news of the attack broke.
Meanwhile, new polling has shown that Palestinians hold some of the most fundamentalist views in the Islamic world, with 65 per cent believing that their government should strictly follow the teachings of the Koran, while 89 per cent believe that sharia law should become the law of the land. Only Afghanistan and Iraq polled higher.
When Irina Rudina lost her 17-year-old in the Dolphinarium attack she reflected,
“I don’t think there will ever be peace … I don’t see a political solution”.
This latest attack will only add further credence to Israelis’ bleak view of their neighbours.