The Israeli security establishment has begun intensive discussions on the possibility of conducting a widespread military operation in Judea and Samaria against Palestinian terror groups following the shooting attack on May 30, 2023 in which a 32-year-old civilian, Meir Tamari, was murdered near the community of Hermesh.
The attack was carried out by the “Rapid Reaction” unit of the “Tulkarm Battalion,” a joint terrorist body of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. The group was founded by Seif Abu Libda from the Nur Shams refugee camp near Tulkarm, who was killed in a shootout with the IDF in 2022. Amir Abu Khadija, an officer in Abbas’s presidential guard, joined the group’s leaders. The IDF killed Khadija in March 2023.
Islamic Jihad sources say that the murder of Israeli citizen Meir Tamari is part of the organization’s revenge response to IDF activity in Nur Shams and to the targeted killing of PIJ’s military elite in Gaza in May.
The Israeli security establishment is concerned about the spread of armed terrorist groups throughout Judea and Samaria equipped with large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. There are about 20 armed terrorist groups carrying out attacks. The weapons flow through the border with Jordan, with the purchases financed by Iran. (See “Arms Smuggling from Jordan: Lessons Learned” by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, May 31, 2023.)
The strategy of the armed terrorist groups is to conduct a war of attrition against the IDF in all of Judea and Samaria and to draw in as many soldiers as possible. Iran sees Judea and Samaria as another front against Israel as part of its strategy of “uniting the fronts.”
The Israel Security Agency reportedly supports conducting an extensive military operation in Judea and Samaria against the terrorist infrastructure. Security sources say it is an inevitable process to stop the expanding terrorist infrastructure from growing daily and pushing the failed P.A. security forces out of large areas in Judea and Samaria.
Abbas has a Palestinian security force numbering 30,000 armed men under his command. But Abbas continues the policy he started in 2021 of avoiding conflict with the armed terrorist groups as long as they do not directly threaten his Muqataa headquarters in Ramallah.
According to senior officials in the Fatah movement, Abbas rejected the security plan offered to him by the Biden administration against the new terrorist groups because it did not include guarantees that the IDF would end the entry of its forces into Area A, which is under P.A. control.
The plan, prepared by U.S. Gen. Mike Fenzel, stipulated that several thousand new security personnel would be recruited by the P.A. They would be trained in Jordan, equipped with weapons, and deployed in Samaria to fight against the terrorist groups.
Sources in Fatah say that the American plan was intended to eliminate the armed groups that have strong support on the Palestinian “street” and the support of all Palestinian factions, but Abbas rejected it because it would lead to a civil war.
Despite the security meetings in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh at the initiative of the U.S. to strengthen the power of the P.A., the American security plan was not discussed. On the contrary, a senior Fatah official says it was “stillborn.”
Akram Rajoub, the P.A.-appointed governor of Jenin, told Asharq Al-Awsat on May 29, 2023 that he only heard about the American security plan through the media. He accused the Israeli government of weakening the P.A. Rajoub reported that the P.A. security forces estimate that the security situation in Judea and Samaria will only worsen.
A senior Israeli political official said that the Israeli security establishment is preparing for an escalation on the ground: “If, God forbid, there is an attack with many casualties in Judea and Samaria, the Israeli government will have no choice but to launch a major military operation despite the pressures of the Biden administration, which has so far succeeded in delaying the launch of the operation.”
Despite the increase in shooting attacks, most Palestinian residents are not interested in an armed intifada that could cause them heavy economic damage and the cessation of work in Israel.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are finding it difficult to drag the Fatah movement into taking a public position calling for an armed intifada against Israel, in contrast to Gaza, where there is a joint headquarters of all the Palestinian factions that organize attacks against Israel. In Judea and Samaria, there is a broad division between the factions and no joint command that coordinates the terrorist activity against Israel.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.