columnIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

What’s behind the escalating Palestinian terror offensive

The four factors pushing the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to escalate their terror assault on Israel.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a deadly shooting attack near the Jewish Settlement of Eli, West Bank, June 20, 2023. Photo by Flash90.
Israeli security forces at the scene of a deadly shooting attack near the Jewish Settlement of Eli, West Bank, June 20, 2023. Photo by Flash90.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

On Tuesday, two Palestinian terrorists affiliated with Hamas drove up to the gas station outside the town of Eli in the Benjamin District. Carrying M-16s, they boldly entered Hummus Eliyahu restaurant and opened fire on the diners. They killed four people, wounded four more, one critically, and exited the restaurant.

A father at the gas station with his children told his kids to lie on the floor of their car, drew his handgun and emptied it into one of the terrorists. The second escaped in a stolen car. Security forces located him hours later, 18 miles away in the Jordan Valley.

Before dawn on Sunday, Palestinian terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah faction, with Hamas and with Palestinian Islamic Jihad ambushed an IDF armored convoy in Jenin in northern Samaria as the soldiers were exiting the city after arresting two terrorists. The terrorists detonated a series of roadside bombs against the convoy, wounding five soldiers. They then proceeded to open fire on the force.

For the first time in 21 years the IDF deployed helicopter gunships in Samaria, to enable the evacuation of the wounded. It took the IDF 12 hours, under constant fire, to evacuate the five disabled armored vehicles. Two more soldiers were wounded during the operation. The Palestinians claimed they damaged one of the helicopters.

Last week, the Palestinians carried out a shooting attack by Tapuach Junction near Nablus, wounding four soldiers. Two more soldiers were wounded by a car ramming attack at a nearby junction. Terrorists in Jenin claimed last week that they had shot down an IDF drone.

Both the boldness of the attacks, their increased lethality and the growing sophistication of the weapons systems and military capabilities of Palestinian terrorists has surprised the public. On Sunday, Jenin looked more like Lebanon or Gaza than at any time in the past.

While Israel is ostensibly in control over the security situation in Judea and Samaria, there is a growing sense that it has lost control. Palestinian terror groups are expanding their capabilities and increasing their firepower, undeterred by Israel.

Clearly something has changed in the Palestinian operational calculus.

Broadly speaking there are four factors pushing the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to escalate their terrorist assaults on Israel.

The first is the succession battle in the Palestinian ruled areas in Judea and Samaria in anticipation of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s expected death.

Abbas, 88 and ailing, has no recognized successor. He was reportedly hospitalized last week during an official visit to China. The unique aspect of the Palestinian succession fight is that the Palestinians don’t shoot one another to gain power. They kill Jews.

Palestinian terror groups are the only viable quasi-political forces in Palestinian society. Their means for achieving both public support and military power is by killing Israeli Jews. The more Jews they murder, the greater their perceived power and hence public support. So as anticipation of Abbas’s death increases, the level of terrorism against Israel also increases.

The second factor is the availability of weapons. Weapons enter Judea and Samaria from Jordan, supplied both by the Jordanians and by Iran.

On April 22, Israeli authorities at the Allenby Bridge international crossing from Jordan arrested Jordanian parliament member Imad al-Adwan as he attempted to smuggle 194 handguns and 12 assault rifles into Israel. According to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), al-Adwan used his diplomatic passport at the crossing point to smuggle weapons into Israel 12 other times since February 2022.

In April security services arrested a Bedouin weapons smuggler seeking to cross into Israel from Jordan. At the time, they acknowledged there has been a dramatic increase in weapons smuggling from Jordan in recent months. Israel’s border with Jordan is its longest border, and unlike Israel’s other frontiers is largely undefended.

Jordanian military forces had dependably blocked smugglers from getting close to the border in the past, but over the past year or so have become increasingly lax in policing the frontier. Politically, Jordan has also become more hostile to Israel. After al-Adwan’s arrest, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi refused to accept a telephone call from Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.

Iran is the Palestinians’ main arms supplier. PIJ is a franchise of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which founded the terror group in 1988. Hamas also takes its orders from Tehran, which supplies it with some $100 million in weapons annually. PIJ gets tens of millions of dollars in arms as well. Enjoying the sudden windfall of $2.8 billion in oil and gas revenues that the U.S. instructed Iraq to unfreeze and transfer to Iran last week, Iran is eager to step up the Palestinian terror war against Israel.

To this end, this week, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and PIJ leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah were in Tehran meeting with Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, who have both called for wide-scale terror assaults against Israel.

Speaking with Iran International, political analyst and activist Jaber Rajabi asserted that Khamenei and Raisi had ordered Haniyeh and al-Nakhalah to unite. Last month Hamas angered Tehran when it didn’t join PIJ in the latter’s missile assault on Israel. As Sunday’s assault on IDF forces in Jenin indicated, in northern Samaria they are acting together.

The third factor feeding the violence is the erosion of Israel’s deterrent power over young Palestinian terrorists. “Operation Defensive Shield,” when IDF forces restored Israel’s security control over Judea and Samaria after eight years of P.A. rule had transformed the areas into terror factories, was 21 years ago. Most of the terrorists attacking Israel today weren’t even born then.

In recent years, the IDF General Staff brushed off efforts by successive governments to carry out major counterterror campaigns. Under both the Obama and Biden administrations, IDF commanders have insisted on bowing to U.S. pressure to diminish security restrictions on Palestinian movement and permit more than a hundred thousand Palestinians from Judea and Samaria and Gaza to work in Israel.

In recent months, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the head of IDF Central Command, has repeatedly refused government and public appeals to restore roadblock checkpoints removed from Palestinian population centers in the Jordan Valley and northern Samaria. Repeated acts of murder of Israeli civilians have occurred since April that could have been prevented had the terrorists been subjected to inspection at these checkpoints.

The Biden administration is the fourth factor emboldening the Palestinians to attack Israel today. On Sunday, just before IDF forces were ambushed, the State Department issued a condemnation of Israel’s decision to permit Jews to build 4,000 new homes in Judea and Samaria and ease the approval of future building requests. State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller excoriated the decision as “an obstacle to peace.”

Following the massacre in Eli on Monday, U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides tweeted out a statement that indicated that for the Biden administration, there is no difference between the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians and the incidental death of Palestinians during a gunfight between Palestinian terrorists and IDF forces.

Nides wrote, “Deeply concerned about the civilian deaths and injuries that have occurred in the West Bank these past 48 hours, including that of minors. Praying for the families as they mourn the loss of loved ones, or tend to those injured.”

Nides posted an additional, unconditional condemnation of the massacre in Eli after he came under massive criticism and Israel’s Ambassador in Washington Mike Herzog wrote, “Any attempt of a so called ‘balanced’ condemnation is misguided and disrespectful to the memory of the victims.”

The administration’s open hostility towards Israel, and desire to blame Palestinian terrorism on Israel, along with its massive financial and military assistance to the P.A. despite the P.A.’s underwriting and sponsorship of terrorism and rejection of Israel’s right to exist, is a major backwind for Palestinian terrorism.

In blaming Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and IDF counterterror operations for Palestinian massacres of Israelis, the Biden administration is effectively embracing the mendacious Palestinian narrative. That narrative rests on four falsehoods:

First, that the Jewish people are not the descendants of Jews of biblical times.

Second, the Palestinians are the descendants of the Jebusites and Canaanites, who disappeared 3,000 years ago, and of the Philistines who disappeared 2,700 years ago.

Third, that Israel is a colonialist power which can only be permitted to exist by appeasing the Palestinians.

Finally, based on their fabricated Palestinian history and erasure of Jewish history, the Palestinians insist that rejecting the Jewish people’s right to freedom and self-determination in their homeland is not anti-Jewish.

On Tuesday evening, news reports indicated that the IDF is finally beginning to come around to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet’s view that the time has come to take off the kid gloves and carry out a major counterterror operation in northern Samaria. At least, the IDF is reportedly rethinking its position on roadblocks.

The coming days will tell whether the Netanyahu government and the IDF have decided to take serious action against the growing power and boldness of Palestinian terrorists, particularly in northern Samaria. But what is clear enough is that without major military action, the security situation in Judea and Samaria and countrywide will only grow more precarious.

Every successful assault and massacre increases the terrorists’ confidence and boldness. If Israel fails to act aggressively, the attacks will spread through Judea, Jerusalem and central Israel. Israeli Arabs, incited against Israel and awash with illegal weapons, are also liable to join the terrorist ranks.

Tuesday’s massacre needs to be a glaring warning. The time to act is upon us.

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