analysisIsrael at War

Israel’s defense establishment prepares for multiple Ramadan scenarios

The IDF has been stepping up raids and targeting inciters, the police have prioritized readiness.

Muslims attack Border Police officers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during Ramadan, May 7, 2021. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Muslims attack Border Police officers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during Ramadan, May 7, 2021. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

The Israeli defense establishment and Israel Police are preparing for a range of security scenarios during the traditionally tense Muslim Ramadan month, which begins on the evening of March 10, give or take a day, as the war against Hamas in Gaza rages on.

Thus far, Hamas has failed to ignite Judea and Samaria with violence, and it views Ramadan as a new opportunity to do that—both in eastern Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. It will likely try to stress religious fundamentalist themes to call on Palestinian masses to take part in violent disorders, and rally under the banner of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” (the name Hamas gave its Oct. 7 attack).

Hamas hopes to get hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the streets to take part in rioting.

The Israel Defense Forces is well aware of this intention and is preparing accordingly, with stepped-up numbers of battalions operating in Judea and Samaria.

In Judea and Samaria, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), the IDF and Border Police have been busy conducting large numbers of security raids to disrupt terror cells before they mature into deadly attacks.

For example, on Tuesday, security forces apprehended a high-ranking terrorist in Balata near Nablus, following intelligence that he was planning an imminent attack with fellow suspects, the IDF said.

On the same day, a terrorist stabbed an Israeli at the Yitzhar Junction, before being shot dead by soldiers on the scene.

The IDF Central Command, which has jurisdiction over Judea and Samaria, has been busy with a severe wave of terror attacks that long preceded the Oct. 7 mass murder attack from Gaza and the war it started.

The wave of terrorism stretches back to March 2022 and includes a spate of attacks within Judea and Samaria and in the larger State of Israel.

A defense source told JNS in recent days that security forces in Judea and Samaria are in the midst of an intense effort to combat terrorism, including raids and arrests.

The long-lasting wave of terror, the source said, is being fueled by the weakening of the Palestinian Authority, with some areas in Judea and Samaria being no-go zones for its security forces, such as Jenin and the Balata camp.

The defense source also pointed to a new, young Palestinian generation, who feel alienated from “everything,” he said—both Israel and the P.A.

According to the source, this is a generation that did not experience 2002’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” carried out by the IDF in Judea and Samaria in response to a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that claimed hundreds of lives. It is a generation that has not seen tanks in the streets of Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria or large-scale destruction of homes.

Meanwhile, a surge of weapons has flooded Judea and Samaria, entering mostly from the Jordanian border, but also some stolen from IDF bases, and some produced in local Palestinian workshops.

On top of this combustible mix, terrorist organizations remain highly motivated to conduct attacks. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are attempting to orchestrate terrorism from abroad, though this effort has been significantly hampered by the IDF’s operations in Gaza, the source stated.

Iran is investing money to get weapons into the hands of terrorists as well and tries to help direct and carry out attacks, alongside Hamas and Islamic Jihad. According to the defense source, in the past six months, weapons that originated from the radical Shi’ite axis have been seized in Judea and Samaria.

If this were not enough, the source described large-scale incitement to violence underway among the Palestinian public, fueled further by scenes from Gaza, and tensions that date back to before the current war. These influences can produce “lone wolf” terrorists who attack with knives or other weapons, while the threat of organized cells exists as well.

The IDF describes organized cells as part of “terrorist infrastructure” and is engaged in nightly raids to thwart it, whether in Hebron, Bethlehem or anywhere else in Judea and Samaria. The cells usually receive instructions, weapons and money from outside of Judea and Samaria.

Since October 2023, the IDF and Shin Bet have thwarted around 250 terror cells in Judea and Samaria.

A third kind of threat also exists—armed groups of localized terrorists, who receive assistance from established terror factions, and from Iran, but who operate on their own. These usually spring up where the P.A. is especially weak, the source said, turning camps into terrorist hornet’s nests.

They build observation command rooms and plant explosives under roads, which the IDF routinely neutralizes during security raids. These areas are filled to the brim with weapons and explosives. In such places, a hierarchy often emerges, with a commander taking charge and building greater capabilities. Such groups are responsible for many attacks, the source said.

The Lions’ Den group in Nablus is a well-known example of this kind of threat. In Jenin, the group there calls itself The Camp’s Sons, or the Jenin Brigade.

In effect, the war in Gaza has significantly enabled the IDF to step up its security raids in Judea and Samaria, since the Central Command no longer has to alert the Southern Command, which is responsible for Gaza, about potential terrorist casualties in raids—casualties that, before the war, could have sparked a subsequent rocket escalation from Gaza.

This means that the IDF in Judea and Samaria conducts more raids, more robustly, particularly in the camps against organized armed groups.

Since the start of the war, the IDF has rounded up 3,400 security detainees in Judea and Samaria, with some 1,500 of them affiliated with Hamas. That’s more than the army typically arrests in an entire year.

Legal changes also enable the IDF to more easily detain online inciters of jihadist violence against Israelis, backed by a specialized intelligence unit that tracks down such activities. The IDF is seeking to remove all of the “inciting elements” it can detect before Ramadan.

At the same time, the source said, the goal is to fight terrorism as precisely as possible, without harming uninvolved Palestinians.

The Israeli defense establishment holds that granting uninvolved Palestinians a degree of freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, though less than in previous years, will help deny Hamas the religious war it is trying to ignite.

It also believes that some Palestinian workers, fewer than before the war, should be allowed back into Israel to work to help relieve economic pressure and deny Hamas recruitment opportunities.

According to the source, while there are many IDF checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, at the end of the day it is the offensive security raids that are most effective in stopping terrorism, and the finite number of soldiers means that forces must be reserved for those raids—limiting the number of checkpoints that can be set up.

The Shin Bet announced on Monday that it thwarted a terrorist cell from the Hebron area that produced about 100 explosives and planned to carry out attacks inspired by the Islamic State organization. The announcement is a reminder that ISIS is also a threat in the area.

In recent days, the IDF Central Command’s training program for commanders was held at the Lachish training base. The program is intended for both active duty and reserve commanders.

“The IDF and the Shin Bet’s intensive counterterrorism efforts in Judea and Samaria prevent an escalation in the security situation and allow us to focus on fighting in Gaza and Lebanon and to achieve important results,” IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi said at the training program on March 1.

“You have great responsibility in Judea and Samaria to achieve the goals of the war and to be prepared for each mission. This is even more important before Ramadan. We could not have accomplished these achievements without the outstanding reservists who are here.”

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, head of the Central Command, added, “Readiness for an escalation is fundamental. There may be an incident, whether real or not, that could lead hundreds of thousands to take to the streets, and this needs to be anticipated and prepared for in every respect.”

Israel Police prepares for a range of scenarios

The Israel Police, meanwhile, has been busy for several weeks making its own preparations leading up to Ramadan as it coordinates with the IDF and the Shin Bet.

The police have been planning for a large variety of scenarios. The issue of whether or not a ceasefire will take hold in Gaza will likely influence events on the ground as well as the situation on the northern front.

The police will have to deal with large numbers of Muslim worshippers arriving at the Temple Mount, Arab Israelis and Palestinians, all at the same time.

Police are also seeing heightened levels of online incitement relating to events in Gaza on social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Telegram. This incitement includes bots from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan, and to a lesser degree, from Gaza, due to internet disruptions in the Strip.

Preparing for various scenarios has been the police’s top priority in the period leading up to Ramadan, as well as for the Border Police. The Border Police has deployed backup reserve battalions since the start of the war, and many of those battalions remain in active service.

A portion of those battalions will reinforce the Jerusalem area. Jerusalem’s Old City, which is a tightly packed area of around a square kilometer, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers are packed in during an average Ramadan period, creates many potential scenarios for police to think about.

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