News Digest — 3/17/23
Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad Issue Threats After Terrorists Killed In West Bank Raid
An IDF raid killed four Palestinian terrorists near Jenin on Thursday (16th). It was the latest anti-terrorist action in a year-long wave of violence in the region.
The Israeli military said the troops were operating in Jenin. The area is known as a stronghold of Palestinian terrorists, and Israel frequently conducts military raids in the area.
Two of the terrorists killed were wanted individuals, which were the targets of the raid. They were members of the terrorist groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas, and had been involved in planning and executing attacks against Israelis. The Jenin Brigade, a local Palestinian group, said its men clashed with an armed Israeli unit disguised as Palestinians. PIJ named one of the dead as a leading figure in its group. Hamas claimed a second dead gunman as one of its group leaders.
In response to the deadly raid, Hamas, the leading terrorist group among Palestinians which also controls the Gaza Strip, vowed revenge.
“Our people have the ability to hurt Israel and make it pay a price for its crimes,” Hamas said. PIJ joined the warning and said that the “occupation will pay a price for what it did in Jenin.”
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified three of the dead as Youssef Shreem, 29, Nidal Khazim, 28, and Omar Awadin, 16. Amateur video taken by people in Jenin appeared to show a crowd of Palestinians surrounding a car that people suspected carried undercover Israeli troops. Another clip appeared to show Israeli military vehicles towing the car away.
Israel has stepped up arrest raids in the West Bank in response to a series of attacks in 2022.
Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 14 people in the first two months of 2023.
Gallant: Israel Will Exact A Price From Those Behind Highway Bombing
Progress is being made in the investigation into the highway bombing near Megiddo earlier this week that seriously wounded a man, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday (16th).
Israeli authorities revealed Wednesday evening (15th) that the roadside bomb was planted by a terrorist who infiltrated the country from Lebanon. He was later killed by Israeli forces while trying to return to Lebanon.
The Israel Defense Forces has not yet named who it believes dispatched the terrorist, but it is not ruling out Hezbollah.
“Following the assessment that I held today on the northern border, I am impressed by the progress of the probe into the incident, the deployment of the forces in the [northern] sector, and the extensive intelligence work,” said Gallant on Thursday (16th).
The determined actions of the security agencies, which led to the elimination of the terrorist and the prevention of another attack, deserve all the praise. Whoever is responsible for the attack will pay for it,” he added.
On Monday (13th), Shareef ad-Din, 21, from the Israeli-Arab town of Salem, was wounded when the explosive device detonated around 6 a.m. The bomb was planted behind a barrier by the side of the road near the Megiddo Junction, some 18 miles southeast of Haifa. The Megiddo Junction is located 37 miles from the Lebanese border as the crow flies, though traveling by roads would extend the journey by a further 12.5 miles.
An urgent investigation into the incident was opened, led by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet.).
The initial inquiry found that the explosive device was of a design unusual to the area and not seen commonly in Judea and Samaria, said the IDF.
After the blast, the IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police began a joint manhunt in an effort to catch the terrorist, including the establishment of roadblocks in northern Israel.
A vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint near the village of Ya’ara containing a suspect who was equipped with a suicide bomb vest and a rifle. Israeli security forces shot and killed him.
One possibility being examined is that the terrorist was driven to Megiddo from the border area; a man suspected of acting as his driver is under arrest.
On Wednesday evening (15th), Gallant briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the security developments, ahead of the latter’s departure for a diplomatic visit to Germany.
Netanyahu’s office announced shortly thereafter that the premier would be returning from Berlin on Thursday evening (16th) and not on Friday morning (17th) as originally scheduled.
Developing Hezbollah/Hamas Axis Gives Israel Serious Cause For Concern
There is a broad consensus within Israel’s intelligence community that the upcoming festival of Ramadan, due to commence in exactly one week’s time, will be even more volatile than usual this year.
There are many and varied reasons for this: the current wave of terrorism in Judea and Samaria that has been going on now for more than a year, the ever weakening ability of the Palestinian Authority to govern effectively, the lack of communication between Israel and the PA security forces, the incessant attempts by a variety of elements to foment violence on social media, as well as the profound internal crisis in Israel, which has caused a number of elements in the region to think that Israel is currently more fragile than ever.
Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, testified to this last week when he said that Israel will collapse before it reaches its 80th birthday. Over the years, Nasrallah has proven to be a renowned master of the ability to play on Israeli domestic sentiment; though in years he has lost some of this ‘charm” and has often opted to voice empty slogans.
This has had a lesser effect on Israelis, mainly since Nasrallah – as he remains holed up in his bunker deep underground in Beirut – is perceived as somebody who tends to “talk the talk” a lot but is less inclined to “walk the walk.”
However, it appears that now Nasrallah might be in a position to make an error in his reappraisal of the situation, thinking that Israel is more vulnerable than in the past. His organization has been preparing for such a moment for a long time now. A prime example of this is the fact that Hezbollah has restored its openly visible series of military outposts along the border with Israel, for the purpose of observation and if need be, to launch forces.
Israel has lodged complaints about this with UNIFIL on a number of occasions recently and has even tried to involve various international players, warning of a potential escalation, for the time being unsuccessful.
At the same time, in the last year, Hamas too has been expediting the efforts to gain a foothold in Lebanon, mainly in the Palestinian towns of Tyre and Sidon. This activity is taking place under the leadership of Saleh-al-Arouri – the man in charge of the foreign activity of Hamas’ military wing – who seeks to establish an additional front against Israel that can readily be activated in the event of an escalation in the Gaza Strip or Judea and Samaria.
Arouri and his men have recruited hundreds of Palestinians and trained them to fire rockets, as well as to prepare and lay explosive charges, with a view to employing these forces for a future day of reckoning.
This Hamas activity has been taking place under the ever watchful eyes of Hezbollah, and apparently in coordination with the Shiite organization.
This policy of engaging in transitional activity has been a characteristic trait of Hamas policy in recent years. Hamas is urging its operatives in Judea and Samaria to carry out terrorist attacks, even though this might lead the terrorist organization to be dragged into a war in Gaza, which it is probably not looking to do at this juncture.
It thus appears that Hamas has not learned or internalized lessons from past experience, such as the calamitous aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of the three boys in Judea and Samaria in 2014, which then led to IDF Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, and it might now make the same errors again.
The potential for such a scenario will clearly increase significantly during the upcoming month of Ramadan, which in any event is usually a powder keg waiting to be ignited, and in view of the large number of intelligence-based indications and warnings of terrorist attacks.
This multi-front challenge requires Israel to adopt a highly cautious and responsible approach, while engaging in maximum coordination with a variety of entities – from the US, Europe, and the UN, to Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states – in an attempt to prevent escalation.
This is no simple task when within Israel’s diplomatic security cabinet there are individuals who themselves could currently be undermining stability, and precisely when the government is working on controversial legislation in the Knesset causing issues within, and the military proficiency of the IDF could be affected – this could well-spur Israel’s enemies into action.
New US Security Plan For The West Bank Could Endanger Israel – Tony Badran
The US is proposing to create and train a 5,000-man Palestinian commando force that would ostensibly fight terrorism in the West Bank in place of the IDF. The plan, drafted by US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Michael Fenzel, and presented to the Israeli government and the PA, envisions a special Palestinian force that would supposedly go after militias in Jenin and Nablus.
By creating a working military command structure for a 5,000-strong militia, training it in counterterrorism and commando tactics, and arming and equipping it, the US will be giving the Palestinians military capacities far in excess of anything they can organically create or currently possess. The plan is shockingly at variance with previous US equip-and-train programs in the West Bank, as evident from the type of training it will receive. Rather than be a gendarmerie or border guard, it would be a well-equipped 5,000 man army.
How such training would be used should not be a mystery. The idea of a Palestinian force actually “countering” Palestinian terror is unprecedented, meaning it has never happened. The terrorists themselves are part of the Palestinian Authority’s security establishment. An Israeli official recently noted that some PA security force members have taken to selling ammunition and weapons to Palestinian terrorist fighters throughout the West Bank.
Palestinian Terrorism Will Not Be Stopped By Palestinian Statehood – Amb. Mark Regev
→ 14 people were killed in Palestinian terror attacks over the first two months of 2023. The common denominator of all the explanations to justify these attacks is that terrorism is a response to the absence of a political horizon.
→ Unfortunately, this ostensibly logical proposition has been tested in a real-world laboratory, and the results were far from encouraging.
→ When the Oslo Accords were signed at the White House in 1993, they undoubtedly established a clear political horizon. Palestinian rule was initially established in Gaza and Jericho, and later expanded to the West Bank, where the PA received full control over Area A, where most Palestinians live. By the end of 1995, the IDF had completed its pullout of all the West Bank’s major cities, except Hebron.
→ Despite this, the first months of 1996 witnessed an explosion of murderous Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel. A February 25 attack murdered 26; a March 3 bombing left 19 fatalities; and a March 4 attack left 16 dead.
→ Today, when Palestinians contend that terrorism stems from the absence of a political horizon, they assume the world will blame Israel. It is conveniently forgotten that it was the Palestinians who said “no” at Camp David in 2000, torpedoed Clinton’s parameters, dismissed Ehud Olmert’s 2008 peace plan, and refused to sign John Kerry’s 2014 framework.
→ If the lack of a political horizon is cited to justify terrorism, the Palestinians should recall the story of the boy who murders his parents, only to demand mercy for being an orphan.
The writer, formerly an adviser to the prime minister and former Israeli Ambassador to the UK, is chair of the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy of Reichmon University.