Burst of fire recalls the worst days of the intifadas

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The attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva last night ended four years of tranquillity, bordering on complacency, for the 750,000 Jewish residents of Jerusalem. In one prolonged burst of automatic fire, it brought back the trauma of the two Palestinian intifadas, when the city suffered more than 30 suicide attacks that killed dozens of its citizens and visitors.

The bombers and gunmen last struck here on any scale in 2004, when 19 civilians and two para-military border police were killed in three suicide bombings. Since then, the number of attacks in major cities in the heart of Israel dwindled to one or two a year.

People had consigned the nightmare to history. Explosions and sirens, the rush to the telephone to check that family and friends were safe, were for Sderot and its neighbours on the Gaza border. Not for Tel Aviv and not for Jerusalem.

The West Bank barrier, and the army's strategy of taking the battle to the terrorists, was thought to have brought peace to Jerusalem. The tourists were back. The shops and cafes of the modern city were bustling again. A new gourmet restaurant was opening every week. The Machane Yehuda market, target of some of the most deadly bombings, was going yuppie. Blocks of "luxury housing", much of it for foreign Jews seeking a second home, were mushrooming.

The economy was booming, with one of the highest growth rates in the developed world and one of the lowest rates of unemployment. The international credit crisis made little impact.

The yeshiva raid sounded a warning. Israel remains a dangerous place. Jerusalem is still vulnerable, though it is much harder now for the bombers and the gunmen to get through. On the West Bank at least, they are still on the back foot, pursued rather than pursuers.

In the first six years after the second intifada erupted in September 2000, Palestinians killed about 1,000 Israeli civilians and security personnel. The carnage peaked in 2002 with 451 dead. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in my Jerusalem street. If last night's raid proves to be an isolated incident, Jerusalem will quickly recover its composure, if not its complacency. If there are more such attacks, it could lurch back to the early years of this decade. Friends will start again making excuses not to visit.