OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Jenin operation was essential but did not produce strategic change

Will the P.A. act to preserve the IDF's achievements in the terror hotbed? The simple answer is: "Highly unlikely."

IDF bulldozers enter Jenin as Israel begins a major aerial and ground offensive in the city, July 3, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
IDF bulldozers enter Jenin as Israel begins a major aerial and ground offensive in the city, July 3, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security, in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

The IDF’s highly professional and critical operation in Jenin was an unavoidable eventuality. Though it should set back the ongoing process of transplanting to northern Samaria the modus operandi of the terror groups in the Gaza Strip, it will not be sufficient to stop it.

The trend of escalation in shootings and bombings in the sector, in addition to the recent (failed) launching of rockets at the Jewish communities on the nearby Gilboa mountain range, has clearly underscored the significance of the processes being adopted by local terrorist organizations, leaving the IDF with no other choice than to engage in action in the heart of Jenin. Israel cannot allow the development in Judea and Samaria of a similar reality to that which has taken hold in the Gaza Strip.

A region with a history of violence

Jenin has a history of intense violence. This is an area that is well and truly a geographical, political and socio-economic periphery. The central government has always had an extremely loose grip over Jenin. This was the case way back in the 1930s during the British Mandate when the British police forces killed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam near the village of Yabd in this sector. Al-Qassam’s name subsequently became a source of inspiration and a symbol of resistance for Hamas terrorist cells.

During the Second Intifada, this area came to be renowned as a stronghold of Palestinian resistance. The fierce battle in the Jenin refugee camp is considered to be one of the most painful incidents of “Operation Defensive Shield,” during which the IDF forces incurred heavy losses. Just like today, then, too, strong cooperation among the various groups in the refugee camp was a salient point, together with the use of improvised explosive devices and booby traps, and the cynical exploitation of the local civilian population and facilities.

The ethos of resistance associated with Jenin soon became a symbol for the terrorist organizations, providing inspiration for Palestinian terrorists from all over.

Twenty years after “Defensive Shield,” this area has once again been established as a stronghold of terrorism in Samaria and a focal point for exporting terrorism across Judea and Samaria, and into the heart of Israel, too. The objective of the IDF operation was to strike a blow at the underlying terrorist networks there, to arrest or kill terrorists and their supporters, to capture weapons, to expose and destroy the workshops used to manufacture arms, and to reverse or at least curb the process of terrorist organizations taking root there and bolstering their military capabilities.

Maximum damage, minimum risk

The key objective of the defense establishment is to cause maximum damage to the terrorist infrastructure at minimum risk to our forces, and while avoiding any spillover of the violence into additional fronts, not to mention, of course, damage mitigation with regard to criticism on the diplomatic front.

Having said that, the IDF must be aware that with all due respect to the importance of these considerations, the prime consideration is that of the safety of our forces. An additional challenge facing the defense establishment, as we have seen, is of course to monitor and counter any attempts to carry out revenge attacks elsewhere. The aim to preserve and maintain the daily routine in those areas not in the immediate combat zone, including the entry of Palestinians into Israel for work, clearly increases the risk of lone-wolf attacks inspired by the events in Jenin, as we witnessed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Consequently, the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, will have to be on the alert and closely monitor the situation vis-à-vis Israeli Arabs and Palestinians (especially from northern Samaria), who have settled down in Israel as part of the process of family unification.

The Palestinian Authority will not do the job

Ultimately, however, the big question pertaining to this operation still remains related to its underlying political-diplomatic purpose: What will happen now in Jenin, following the end of this operation? Now that the operation has come to an end, control over the area is to be handed back over to the P.A. security forces.

Will the P.A. adopt a more proactive approach in order to preserve the new situation? The simple two-word answer to this question is “highly unlikely.” The fact that the P.A. security forces even allow the IDF to engage in such activity is considered by much of the local population to be an act of treason. It’s safe to assume that Hamas and the PIJ will continue to chide it for this, ramping up animosity against it. In such a state of affairs, it is far from certain that the P.A. will elect to engage in any activity to uproot the remains of terrorist activity there.

It will come as no surprise when we have to continue to do this ourselves.

If we add to this the inbuilt weaknesses of the P.A. (some of which have been a contributing factor to the current situation in Jenin) and the impact of the ongoing succession battles, as various rivals look to replace the aging Abbas, it is extremely difficult to be the least bit optimistic as to the chances of the Palestinian security forces preserving the IDF’s achievements during the recent operation.

The most plausible option is that, even in the aftermath of “Operation Home and Garden,” we will have to continue to root out any potential terrorist activity ourselves, in what might be termed “lawn mowing” activity. The contribution of the current operation to that will take the form of somewhat more favorable operational conditions when future operations are undertaken by security forces.

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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