In 2002, Israel, after considerable procrastination in the face of unprecedented terrorist attacks, finally adopted an offensive hard-hitting strategy against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and local terrorist factions when it reconquered the major towns in the West Bank that had become sanctuaries from which Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah terrorists launched sophisticated suicide and hit-and-run attacks.

A street in Jenin. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The IDF has been engaged in relentless nightly penetrations ever since.  Terrorist acts, and the number of victims of terrorist acts, duly plummeted.

By contrast, in Gaza, Israel withdrew entirely in 2005, dismantled all the settlements, and adopted a policy of containment. Hamas turned all of Gaza into a sanctuary in which it could train fighting forces, build up a militia that could effectively coordinate company-level attacks, and develop missile and tunneling capabilities.

Thousands of missiles were launched, numerous attack tunnels into Israel were built, and three rounds of costly fighting between Hamas and Islamic Jihad took place subsequent to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

The night of January 17, 2018, we were witness to another reminder of the success of the hard-hitting strategy adopted towards the Arabs in the West Bank – and the failure of containment in Gaza.

One need only compare the firefight in Jenin, which led to the death of Hamas terrorist Ahmad Jarrar, who had participated in the killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevah eight days before, and the ambush and abduction of Gilad Shalit on the Gaza border by Hamas terrorists in 2006.

In the January 17 firefight, not only was Jarrar killed by the police anti-terrorist unit together with other IDF forces, but another member of the cell was apprehended. He will no doubt reveal information leading to the apprehension of the rest of those involved in the attack. The operation was hardly costless; two members of the anti-terrorist unit were wounded, one seriously.

The ambush of an IDF tank, the killing of two crew members, and the abduction of Gilad Shalit in the summer of 2006 led to an entirely different outcome. Not only did the IDF fail to extricate Gilad or kill the cell members who had participated in the attack and fled back into Gaza, but Shalit’s subsequent release came at a considerable cost – over 1,000 terrorists were freed in 2011, many of whom had been sentenced for multiple murders and some of whom have committed further terrorist acts since their release.

A spurious comparison? Hardly. One of those released to Gaza was reportedly the mastermind behind the killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevah, so there is very much a connection between the two events.

These events are related in another important way. Both were planned and perpetrated by terrorists who belong to Hamas, an organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.

Be under no illusion. They did not gather intelligence on the movement of Rabbi Raziel Shevah (a father of six young children), command a car, secure firearms for the attack and precious ammunition to fire, and kill Shevah because he was a settler in the way the EU defines him.

Had the terrorist squad been able to plan and perpetrate the same attack in northern Tel Aviv, it would have gladly done so.  From Hamas’s perspective, Tel Aviv is a “settlement” just as much as Havat Gilad, the settlement where Shevah lived and outside of which he was murdered.

This can be confirmed on a more personal level. Ahmad Jarrar, Shevah’s killer, is the son of Hamas commander Nasr al-Jarrar, who was killed in 2002 for planning suicide attacks in Israel within the Green Line.

Like father, like son.  Only the son had to make do with the murder of a Zionist settler beyond the Green Line – probably because the planners reasoned that their car would have been stopped at a checkpoint along the security fence, or that the gathering of sufficient intelligence would have involved more participants and thus a higher probability of disclosure by informants.

A comparison of the firefight in Jenin with the abduction of Shalit will not be a decisive factor in shaping the fundamental visions of peace of either advocates of greater Israel or advocates of Peace Now.

It does, however, have a bearing on defining the necessary prerequisites of any future solution – namely, the absolute necessity of an active Israeli military and police presence in the West Bank that will allow the nabbing of Jarrar clones, preferably before they perpetrate their attacks. It will also allow the punishing of those who have already committed attacks, not only to achieve justice but to achieve deterrence as well.

Indeed, the Israel Security Organization (the Shabak), together with the IDF and the police, do nab most perpetrators well before their attacks, especially the professionals (as opposed to individual attackers). They report that 400 such attempts were nipped in the bud in 2017.

Some might ask, can’t the future Palestinian state nab potential terrorists instead of Israeli security forces? The answer lies in one important detail. Note where the January 17 firefight took place: in the town of Jenin, which is designated as Area A. Area A is under the complete control of the PA.

Add to the Jarrar clones the danger of the ammunition workshops constantly being revealed and destroyed. These workshops, if left alone, could easily develop into production centers of mortars and missile projectiles. This is, in fact, exactly how such workshops developed in Gaza following Israel’s withdrawal in 2005.

The problem with peacemaking is that most of it is top-down. The deliberations typically take place in idyllic surroundings – the woods around Oslo, Camp David, the Wye River, Montreux, Lausanne, Sochi.

The tragedy is that the costs of these deliberations take place on ground zero – among pedestrians, in buses, at entrances to bus and train depots.

It’s time to see peacemaking from the ground up.

Comparing the firefight in Jenin to Shalit’s abduction and its ramifications is a good way to begin. And one of the most important lessons of such an exercise is that an Israeli presence in the West Bank is indispensable, at least until an effective alternative can be found.

It will surely not be the future State of Palestine.