The fact that the Israel Defense Forces needed to call in air support for ground forces in Jenin on Monday is a signal of a significant escalation in this Palestinian city, which has become a hornet’s nest of terrorism.
The use of air support is a statement on the character of the combat in Samaria, with what should be a standard security operation becoming entangled and turning into a messy escalation.
Four Palestinians were killed and several IDF soldiers were wounded in intense exchanges of fire which began when IDF and Border Police units entered Jenin camp to capture two security suspects.
A powerful explosive device damaged an armored IDF vehicle as the Israeli force was leaving, wounding Israeli personnel. The IDF decided to evacuate the injured via helicopter, but the aircraft came under fire, and that is when commanders decided to call in air support. A helicopter gunship fired on gunmen to enable the extraction of the Israeli forces, according to the Israeli military.
Large-scale exchanges of fire between Palestinian gunmen in the IDF and large numbers of bombs were hurled during the clash, according to the Israeli military.
Zooming out from this event, it is clear that Jenin is out of control, and that as time goes by, the chances of a larger-scale IDF operation there are growing.
The Palestinian Authority is non-existent in the city despite nominally being in control there, and the area has turned into an active terror hub, not only for local terrorists, but also for those from other areas of Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank.
Recently, it is likely that several such terrorists fled to Jenin after attacking Israeli civilians or soldiers in other areas, viewing it as a safe haven. Large quantities of firearms are also flowing into the city, an arsenal of weaponry is amassing there.
It is left to the IDF to repress the terrorist activity.
Within Jenin, localized terror factions that call themselves “the Jenin battalions” work in cooperation with established terror organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both of which maintain a strong presence in the city.
Hamas and PIJ devote significant funds to generating incitement in order to promote terrorism by local groups, and unlike in the past, they do not insist that other groups claim affiliation with them.
The Israel Defense Forces launched “Operation Break the Wave” in early April 2022 in response to a series of deadly terror attacks. Though the operation is estimated by the Israeli defense establishment to have saved hundreds of Israeli lives, it has not been able to quell the ongoing terrorism stemming from Samaria.
Last week, Professor Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies and former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, told JNS that PIJ, with the backing of Iran and Hezbollah, took advantage of the vacuum over the past year to boost its presence in northern Samaria. Since then, he said, the situation has deteriorated further.
Michael assessed that a larger security operation is now only a matter of time, arguing that one should have been launched a year ago to target terrorist infrastructure in northern Samaria.
On May 30, 32-year-old father of two Meir Tamari was murdered in a drive-by shooting near Hermesh, west of Jenin. In the days preceding that attack, Palestinian gunmen fired on Mevo Dotan in northern Samaria and Gan Ner in Gilboa.
It appears that the IDF will have little choice but to recommend to the Cabinet the launch of such an operation, as pinpoint counter-terror operations have not been able to effectively put the lid on terrorism in the area.