Counter-terror is working in Judea and Samaria, but what comes next?

The IDF is effectively containing terror for now, but Israel is preparing for the day after Abbas dies.

Israeli security forces work together to thwart terrorist infrastructure in the Jordan Valley region on Jan. 30, 2022. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Israeli security forces work together to thwart terrorist infrastructure in the Jordan Valley region on Jan. 30, 2022. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

An operation early Sunday morning in which two armed Palestinians were killed and nine wounded was part of the IDF’s intensive ongoing activities in Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, this was a particularly violent event, during which part of the home where the terrorists were hiding was destroyed and a considerable number of weapons were confiscated, some of which had been used to carry out terrorist attacks in Samaria.

The operation, which took place in the Nablus Kasbah (old citadel), was one of the most complicated launched in the area in recent years. The house where the terrorists were hiding was located in an area of narrow, crowded alleys that made it hard for Israeli forces to reach their target. According to the preliminary information released by the Shin Bet security service, it was clear that there were many weapons in the house, so the operation was put in the hands of the Israel Police’s special counter-terror unit, which specializes in operations of this kind. The counter-terror personnel worked in conjunction with Givati Brigade reconnaissance soldiers, who closed off the area to prevent fugitives form fleeing or other terrorists from arriving.

After the house was surrounded, the forces called on the fugitives to come out. The terrorists began shooting, and in response the Israeli forces launched the “pressure cooker” protocol, firing a few rockets at the house and later proceeding to demolish part of it with a bulldozer. The battle lasted for more than three hours, and expanded to shootings in other parts of the Kasbah. Palestinian reports claimed two of the terrorists were killed, but Israel thinks the number is higher. When the operation was over, all the weapons in the house were confiscated, including the ones fired during the raid itself.

The operation mainly targeted members of Tanzim, the armed wing of Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party. Some have been involved in recent shooting attacks. Since the beginning of 2022, there has been a sharp rise in violence and terrorist activity in northern Samaria, and over 75% of attacks are being carried out by terrorists from that area.

If in the past, most active terrorists were affiliated with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the past few months have seen a spike in terrorist attacks by Tanzim members.

Israel thinks that this activity is not being directed from the top, and that Abbas and the Palestinian security services even oppose it, fearing that, sooner or later, it could turn against them. But they have little will to stop it, and local terrorist operatives exploit that to increase their grip on the area. Sometimes other elements, like criminals, also become involved.

Ever since the wave of terrorist attacks this past March and April, the IDF and the Shin Bet have increased arrests in Judea and Samaria. Every night, a few arrest raids are carried out as part of Operation Breakwater, but the Nablus operation was unusual in the level of violence it entailed. Security officials said that the relatively early arrival at the Kasbah, combined with the comparatively harsh response to the shots fired at Israeli forces, were intended to make it clear to the Palestinians that the IDF is not deterred from acting in any place at any time in Judea and Samaria.

“The idea is to get them on the run. To take their safe place, home, and make it unsafe for them and for the people hiding them,” a military official explained.

On Sunday, rumors were circulating in the P.A. that the target of the Nablus operation was Ibrahim al-Nablusi, a member of a terror cell that the police counter-terror forces broke up last February in a daytime operation that was also unusually violent. Three terrorists involved in a number of shooting attacks against IDF forces in Samaria were fatally shot. Since then, al-Nablusi has been hiding out in the Kasbah, and became a local hero among the Tanzim youth. Both the IDF and the Shin Bet denied that he was the target.

Meanwhile, Israel’s security apparatus attributes the recent relative quiet to the intensive nightly activity in Judea and Samaria. Another reason is the increased deployment of forces along the seam line border area, which makes it difficult for undocumented Palestinians to enter Israel. Officials said that given there is no drop in the number of alerts and terrorist plots, the high level of arrest activity can be expected to continue. The activity paused briefly ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit and started again after Biden left the Middle East.

The heavy terrorist activity that has been ongoing since the start of the year is a source of concern for Israel, especially in light of the P.A.’s struggle to govern. All this could intensify after Abbas dies. Abbas has picked Hussein al-Sheikh to succeed him, and this year appointed him chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, but it’s unlikely that it will be easy for al-Sheikh to take charge of all the Palestinian factions.

That scenario is a troubling one for Israel, and recently Israel has begun making preparations for it. Most of the attention is on Hamas, which is always trying to set terrorist attacks in motion from Judea and Samaria, so far without success, thanks to the Shin Bet’s work in thwarting them. These failures are part of the reason why Hamas has been stepping up its efforts to establish military units in refugee camps in Lebanon, efforts that are being overseen by Salah al-Arouri, who is also responsible for many of the attempts to recruit terror cells in Judea and Samaria.

Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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