The ‘new normal’: Gaza terrorists respond to Israeli military operations in Judea and Samaria

Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, formerly of COGAT: It’s clear that Hamas doesn’t want to drag Gaza into a new conflict with Israel, though it does aim to “strengthen the narrative” it established in May 2021 as the “defender” of Al-Aqsa and Palestinian interests.

Hamas terrorists attend a parade in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 27, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Hamas terrorists attend a parade in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 27, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

A new normal is taking hold in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorist factions in the form of responses by Gazan armed factions to events in Judea and Samaria, commonly referred to as the West Bank. 

The responses so far from Gaza are deliberately designed to send a message without crossing what Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad consider to be Israeli red lines, which would trigger broader Israeli retaliation in Gaza.

The latest example of this developing trend occurred on Thursday when terrorists in Gaza fired a rocket that exploded just on the Israeli side of the security barrier. Hours later, the Israel Defense Forces reported that an explosive device planted on the Gaza-Israel security barrier went off near Israeli soldiers conducting activity in the sector. In response, Israeli tanks hit a Hamas military post in southern Gaza.

These events are occurring hours after an Israeli counter-terrorism operation in Jenin resulted in the killing of Hamas terrorist Abdel Fattah Hussein Kharousha, 49, as well as five other Palestinian gunmen during a battle with the elite Israeli Counter-Terrorism Unit. That unit acted on precise Shin Bet intelligence to reach Kharousha in broad daylight. Kharousha had shot dead Israeli brothers IDF Staff Sgt. Hallel Menachem Yaniv and his brother, Yagel Yaakov Yaniv, while they were driving near Huwara in Samaria on Feb. 26.

An Israeli defense source assessed that a lengthy period could be ahead consisting of an “equation” in which terrorists launch attacks in Judea and Samaria, Israeli forces launch counter-terror raids, and Gazan terror factions launch limited attacks, triggering limited Israeli retaliation.

However, that could all change quickly if the drizzle of Gazan projectile fire turns into a barrage of rockets that hits an Israeli residential building, or if Hamas decides to escalate during the upcoming month of Ramadan. So far, Hamas appears content to signal its involvement from Gaza without going further.

The security operation in Jenin on Tuesday was another powerful Israeli signal to terrorists that they had no safe haven and no safe times (with the operation launched in broad daylight), the defense source told JNS. The Israeli force used shoulder-fired missiles and other means to assault the Jenin home where the terrorists were barricaded and refused to surrender, and the force came under gunfire.

“Among the other incidents, armed suspects were seen opening fire on soldiers from an ambulance while using the vehicle as a shield,” the IDF said. “Additionally, explosive devices and blocks were thrown at the forces, and multiple violent riots erupted in the area. The authorities reacted with riot dispersal tactics and live fire. A hit was discovered. During the activity, two drones fell and are being investigated.”

Kharousha received assistance from Hamas in Judea and Samaria, which helped him to hide.

During the operation, the Shin Bet said it sent numerous messages to Jenin locals, urging them not to let their children out in order to prevent harm to Palestinian youths hurling rocks at Israeli forces in daylight firefights.

The fact that all six of the Palestinian casualties in the raid were armed combatants appears to show that these efforts were successful. Afterwards, Palestinian terror factions disputed the affiliation of five of the gunmen, in a competition to show who is most dominant in Jenin, a city that has become a no-man’s-land, where the P.A. no longer functions.

In Nablus, meanwhile, IDF soldiers apprehended two of Kharousha’s sons suspected of assisting in the terror attack.

‘Violated an informal agreement of quiet for quiet’

The events of the past 24 hours appear to follow a similar pattern to the events that occurred on Feb. 23-24, when 11 Palestinians were killed in a gun battle that erupted when Israeli forces launched a counter-terror raid in Nablus. Hours later, terrorists in Gaza fired six rockets at Ashkelon and Sderot, and the Israeli Air Force responded by a Hamas weapons manufacturing site in central Gaza, marking an end to that escalation.

“A new mechanism, led by Hamas and PIJ, has been established to give Hamas a flexible set of options for escalation in accordance with its wishes,” Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, Israel’s former Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and a senior research associate at the Miryam Institute, told JNS.

It is clear at this stage that Hamas does not want an escalation that would drag Gaza into a new conflict with Israel, he said, but the terror group does want to “strengthen the narrative” it established in May 2021, when it fired barrages of rockets at Jerusalem and Ashdod, and established itself as the “defender” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinian interests in Judea and Samaria, sparking a conflict with Israel.

According to Dangot, for now, Hamas is sticking with its strategy of launching terror attacks on Jews in Judea and Samaria, as well as working to weaken the rule of 87-year-old Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, “while keeping the Gaza Strip out of an uncontrollable escalation.”

“We see this mechanism in every incident in northern Samaria. By firing projectiles from the Gaza Strip, Hamas establishes legitimacy [on the Palestinian street] and violated an informal agreement of quiet for quiet with Israel,” he stated. This pattern has repeated itself several times in recent months, and Hamas has been able to do this while still enjoying the benefits of humanitarian-economic arrangements that see Israel allowing some 17,000 Gazan workers enter Israel for work daily and maintaining “reasonable ties with Egypt,” explained Dangot.

“This allows Hamas to point to an achievement, and it can escalate if it feels it needs to do so during Ramadan,” he cautioned. “In contrast, the Palestinian Authority is entirely dependent on a framework that involves Israel and on confidence-building measures. Meanwhile, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are continuing their campaign of mass incitement, which has resulted in the terrorism of incitement that we’ve seen over the last year.”

Israel, for its part, is interested in keeping separate the two Palestinian sub-arenas: Gaza, and Judea and Samaria. 

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