The successful IDF operation in Nablus on Feb. 22, in which eight of the 12 Palestinians killed were members of the terrorist groups Lions’ Den, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and PFLP, was the third such operation in recent weeks. In these raids, Israeli special forces penetrate deep into Palestinian cities to target terrorists in the planning stages of attacks. The two other operations were in the Aqbat Jaber refugee camp near Jericho, and in the Jenin refugee camp.
The Nablus operation resulted in angry reactions in the Palestinian and international media, and provoked rocket fire at Israel from Gaza. Hamas and PIJ launch rockets at Israel in response to every successful action by Israeli security forces in the West Bank.
With these operations, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) are sending a message to the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist organizations: “Israel’s reach is long. There are no cities of refuge for terrorists in Judea and Samaria, and the IDF will strike any terrorist who plans to kill Israeli civilians and soldiers.”
The terrorist organizations have vowed revenge for the Israeli operations, but will attempt to carry out attacks against Israelis regardless—and the Palestinian Authority will not interfere. Since the last IDF operation in Gaza, in May 2021, terrorist cells began forming in northern Samaria, unmolested by the P.A., which still refuses to fight against them.
The terrorist organizations plan to step up attacks toward the month of Ramadan (March 22-April 20, 2023) as a catalyst for a third intifada. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh published a statement on Feb. 23 in which he said that the Palestinian people will not allow anyone to suppress the intifada that was developing in the West Bank, and added that “the campaign against the enemy is entering a stage of strong desperation [of Israel] and breaking the occupiers and expelling them from the land of our fathers and grandfathers.”
Hamas plans a major escalation
Hamas aims to bring about a major escalation during Ramadan. Developments on the ground are working in its favor. The P.A.’s power is in continuous decline, while in Israel, the new government is in a state of diplomatic confrontation with the international community, and in a domestic political crisis.
The younger Palestinian generation is discouraged by the corrupt P.A. and, having no memories of previous intifadas, thirst for a confrontation against Israel. The system of Palestinian incitement takes advantage of this, and the social networks encourage the young to initiate terror attacks and become TikTok “heroes.” While other social media platforms limit or censor Palestinian incitement, TikTok, a Chinese company, does not.
The IDF will be forced to launch additional operations deep in Palestinian territory because the P.A. no longer fights against terrorism—in violation of the Oslo Accords. Most of the Palestinian public in the West Bank is not interested in a new intifada. An estimated 160,000 Palestinians work in Israel, and they want to continue supporting their families. However, the increasing violence may dictate events.
The violence so far has not developed into a full-scale intifada for several reasons:
1. The internal division between Fatah and Hamas.
2. The P.A. refuses to sponsor the terrorist activities of the armed groups.
3. Most of the Palestinian public in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem does not participate in the violence.
The Palestinian incitement machine is taking advantage of the fact that Passover (April 5-April 13) overlaps with Ramadan this year. Groups on the Israeli right are planning activities on the Temple Mount and at the Western Wall during the holiday. The Palestinians will broadcast their false narrative that Israel intends to take over the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and divide them physically between Jews and Muslims, as it did at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994.
The Palestinian narrative will point to increasing numbers of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount. Last year, 3,670 Jews visited the Mount during Passover, a figure which is expected to increase this year. Some zealous Jews may even proclaim their intention to restore the millennium-old paschal sacrifice this year.
Any Israeli attempt to change the status quo on the Temple Mount is, from the point of view of Muslims, the crossing of a red line.
Hamas has been planning for a long time to ignite a new intifada in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria using two main elements that can arouse the Palestinian street: the security prisoners in Israeli prisons, and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The security prisoners have already announced their intent to initiate a hunger strike at the beginning of Ramadan.
The action plan of Hamas and PIJ for Ramadan is as follows:
1. Proclamation of civil disobedience in the Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
2. Launch a war of attrition against IDF forces and Israeli civilians out of Nablus and Jenin.
3. Launch rockets from Gaza to support the new intifada.
4. Call for “lone wolf” terrorists to launch attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians everywhere.
5. Call on Israeli Arabs to disrupt the fabric of life in Israel.
Estimates on the Palestinian street are that it will be possible to talk about a new intifada in the West Bank within a few weeks. As Palestinian deaths increase, the number of those joining the new intifada will increase.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.