It will be no consolation to Israelis to observe that atrocities such as that which killed eight young people at a religious college in Jerusalem have become rarer since the spate of suicide attacks in 2005. They will cite the controversial barrier as one reason for the improvement and note that this attack, like the last two – at Dimona last month and in Eilat almost a year ago – occurred in places that were vulnerable. The divided city of Jerusalem remains one such place, despite much overt security.
But completing the barrier is not, and cannot be, the definitive answer to Israel's security. A modern state cannot seal itself hermetically from the outside world, however hostile it perceives that world to be. A wall can be the solution only of last resort.
In fact, the greatest pressure point in the region at present is the short stretch of the border between Israel and northern Gaza, from where Hamas militants regularly launch primitive missiles into Israeli territory. The persistence of these attacks provoked Israel's incursion into the Gaza strip last week – its first since withdrawing from the territory two and a half years ago – in an operation that left more than 120 Palestinians dead.
Israel's exasperation at the continuing attacks from Gaza is not hard to appreciate, but nor are the acute tensions fostered by Israel's blockade – set out in grim detail by a group of leading charities this week. They were right when they argued that foreign governments, if not initially Israel itself, should talk to Hamas. The United States and the European Union were quite wrong to urge a democratic election, then boycott the resulting government when they disapproved of the results. Gaza is a pariah we, too, have helped to create.
The gloom, however, is not completely unrelieved. That some rethinking appears to be going on about how to deal with Gaza is positive. So, too, is the renewed US engagement in the region. Perhaps the most hopeful sign, however, was the statement from the Israeli government following the killings in Jerusalem that it would not halt peace talks in response.
Any progress towards peace is likely to be accompanied by ever more desperate attacks on the part of those who believe they will only lose from a settlement. However difficult it may be, the best way of discouraging similar attacks in future is to demonstrate that such murderous tactics will not work.