Saleh al-Arouri, the leader of Hamas’s military wing in Judea and Samaria, has been working to realize his vision of setting up a terrorist network in northern Samaria dedicated to producing and launching rockets.
Established in May 2023, the Hamas-funded “Al-Ayash Battalion” is named in honor of Yahya Ayash, also known as “The Engineer.” Ayash was an infamous bomb-maker and terrorist leader killed by Israel in 1996.
While the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) has managed to apprehend some members of this terrorist network in recent months, most remain concealed within the Jenin refugee camp. Despite those arrests, the group continues manufacturing and launching rockets at Israel.
Seven of these primitive, locally-produced “Qassam” rockets have been launched recently. Although these rockets are rudimentary in nature, they symbolize Hamas’s intent. The group seeks to transfer advanced technological knowledge for rocket production from Gaza to Judea and Samaria.
The ISA predicts that it is only a matter of time before this expertise reaches Jenin, enabling the terrorist groups to produce more sophisticated rockets with larger warheads, longer ranges and better accuracy.
To combat this threat, the IDF and ISA heavily invest in intelligence efforts to neutralize the Al-Ayash Battalion.
Both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad strive to disrupt Israel’s military control in the region. They aim to open a new front against Israel from Judea and Samaria, in line with the vision of former Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
In June 2023, Hamas and PIJ leaders met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who encouraged them to escalate attacks against Israel in the West Bank.
The strategy discussed by Iran and the Palestinian terror groups involves launching tens of thousands of rockets and accurate missiles from multiple fronts, thereby tightening the stranglehold around Israel.
The recent rocket launches from Judea and Samaria demand serious attention. Previous rocket programs were thwarted by the ISA, which remains steadfast in preventing terrorist organizations from reviving this threat against Israeli cities. Senior security officials caution against allowing northern Samaria to become a second Gaza.
Armed terrorist groups in Samaria already use substantial explosive charges, similar to those employed by terrorist organizations in Gaza and southern Lebanon. The deployment of a large improvised explosive device against an IDF armored vehicle in Jenin in June is reminiscent of Hamas and Hezbollah in their respective areas of operation.
For Palestinians terror groups, attaining the capability to launch rockets at Israel marks a pivotal moment in their struggle. They intend to capitalize on this strategy and anticipate that the IDF and ISA will conduct widespread operations across Judea and Samaria to contain the phenomenon.
A significant achievement of the IDF’s “Operation Shield and Arrow” in Gaza in May 2023 was the elimination of Tarek Izz a-Din, a senior PIJ leader responsible for its military operations in Judea and Samaria.
Izz a-Din had established a network for manufacturing and launching rockets from the Jenin area. However, the ISA successfully apprehended all members of this cell before they could launch rockets toward Israel.
Izz a-Din shared a close relationship with al-Arouri, the head of Hamas’s military wing in Judea and Samaria, which contributed to establishing the “Al-Ayash Battalion.”
The head of the ISA, Ronen Bar, regards this phenomenon with utmost seriousness. A substantial intelligence effort is underway to locate the individuals involved in rocket production.
A senior security source has emphasized that the IDF and ISA will not hesitate to reenter the Jenin refugee camp to halt these activities and put an end to rocket production and launching from Samaria toward Israel.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.