Israeli forces launched the largest counter-terror operation in the West Bank in twenty years yesterday as they seek to counter terrorist activity in Jenin.
- Starting on Monday, the IDF is targeting armed groups in the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, which has become a centre of Palestinian terrorist activity in recent years.
- Israeli operations have included air and drone strikes, and military vehicles as the IDF pursues an militant group called the Jenin Battalion.
- Troops have thus far located and demolished weapons storage sites, explosives labs with hundreds of primed devices, war rooms used by Palestinian gunmen to observe Israeli forces, and other terror infrastructure.
- Some 10 Palestinians are reported to have been killed and a further 100 wounded, according to latest reports. All 10 dead were actively involved in fighting IDF forces, though some noncombatants have reportedly been wounded.
- More than 1,000 Israeli troops have been involved in the operation so far, as well as 15 IDF bulldozers used to combat improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted along roads.
- Alongside gun battles between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, an IDF spokesman said that forces were targeting labs used for the production of IEDs and weaponry.
- Loudspeakers and text messages were used to warn local Palestinian residents to stay indoors for their own safety during the operation, which has continued into Tuesday. Since the operation began, around 3,000 local residents have left their homes in order to remain safe amid the fighting.
- The operation was reportedly approved by ministers following the deployment of IEDs against Israeli troops and the launching of crude rockets from the West Bank, an IDF spokesperson said.
- A relative newcomer on the Palestinian militant scene, the Jenin Battalion draws recruits from Palestinian factions including Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
- An IDF spokesperson estimated that there were some 300 Palestinian gunmen in Jenin, of whom at least 160 could be identified via intelligence.
- In a statement, the group insisted its members would fight “until the last breath and bullet”.
- The IDF has claimed that a “joint terror command post” exists at the heart of a UNRWA-administered camp for Palestinians in the city, which is home to some 10,000 people.
- This “command post” included a meeting point for arming terrorists with weapons and explosives, a communications centre for operatives, and a shelter for terrorists who have committed attacks in the last few months.
- Over 120 Palestinians have been questioned by Israeli troops thus far as part of the operation, many of whom have since been released.
- A number of attacks against Israelis in recent years have been carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area, with very little Palestinian Authority control on the ground, which falls under Area A of the West Bank.
- Politicians from across the Israeli political spectrum threw their support behind the operation on Monday, with leader of the opposition and former prime minister Yair Lapid stating that “this is a justified action against terrorist infrastructure” and “the attempts to build missile production systems in Jenin with Iranian assistance”.
- Former defence minister Benny Gantz likewise supported the operation, tweeting that “every determined and responsible operation by the government will receive full support”.
- Meanwhile, the Biden administration urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to increase security cooperation, adding that Israel should avoid civilian deaths in Jenin: “it is imperative to take all possible precautions to prevent the loss of civilian lives”.
- A National Security Council spokesperson furthermore expressed the Biden administration’s support for “Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups”.
Such a significant operation in Jenin follows a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis in recent months, including nine fatal attacks since the start of the year. Some 50 shooting attacks were carried out by residents of the area, and 19 wanted Palestinians escaped to Jenin to seek refuge from Israeli forces. Most recently, on 20 June, four Israelis – including two seventeen-year-olds – were killed by a Hamas-affiliated Palestinian gunman at a petrol station. Some 24 Israelis have died in terror attacks so far this year. Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement that Israel would “take an offensive and aggressive stance against terrorism”, and that “anyone who attacks Israeli citizens will pay a high price”. On Tuesday morning, a 14-year-old from Jenin was arrested for stabbing and wounding an Israeli man in the city of Bnei Brak.
Lack of authority
Despite falling under Area A of the West Bank, and therefore under Palestinian Authority civil and military authority, Jenin has developed a reputation for lawlessness in recent years as a hotbed of militant activity where the PA has little authority.
- President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, which has governed the Palestinian Authority since it was established, has lost credibility in recent years due to increasing authoritarianism and corruption in its ranks.
- Instead, more militant and terror groups including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have gained popularity in the absence of credible leadership from the PA.
- New militant groups like the Jenin Battalion have likewise emerged to fill the void left by PA influence in many towns and cities in the West Bank, including the Lions’ Den group based in Nablus.
- Overnight on Monday, Palestinians vandalised the religious site of Joseph’s Tomb, on the outskirts of the city of Nablus in the southern West Bank. The PA was unable to prevent this from happening.
- On Monday, PA president Abbas claimed that security cooperation with Israel would remain suspended in protest at the operation in Jenin. Security cooperation was theoretically frozen in January, but many elements have continued in practice.
Cheering on terror
- Based in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have urged Palestinians to join the Jenin Battalions in fighting the IDF, with some Gaza-based militants threatening to involve themselves.
- A large concert in the southern Israeli city of Sderot was cancelled on Monday night as a precautionary measure.
- “Our people and their resistance everywhere know how to respond to this barbaric aggression,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement. “We call on our people throughout the West Bank to stand by Jenin and defend its people in order to thwart the enemy’s plan”.
- Senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhleh called the IDF operation in Jenin a “massacre” and said the Iran-backed terror group will respond. Over the past year, Islamic Jihad has launched rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.
Signs of calm
Monday night was relatively calm, leading to some speculation that the operation may be nearing its objectives. Overnight on Monday and early Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen reportedly chose not to fight Israeli forces, with IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi telling reporters that “the resistance of the gunmen was low” overnight, adding that they “ran away from the targets we reached”. He estimated that the operation is likely to conclude within days, rather than weeks, however insisted that Israel would continue “a series of operations” as “we will not abide [Jenin] being a city of refuge for terror”.