The IDF and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) operation in Aqbat Jaber on Sunday night was a significant one. Five terrorists were killed, including the two—Malek Lafi and Rafat Abeidat—who carried out the shooting attack on Jan. 28 at the Me Casa restaurant at Almog Junction in the Jericho area.
The operation followed another in Aqbat Jaber on Feb. 4, during which 15 terrorists were arrested after an hours-long exchange of gunfire.
Jericho is considered to be the quietest city in the West Bank, and is located near a main traffic axis for Israeli and Arab vehicles that runs south to north through the Jordan Valley. The presence of armed terrorists in the Jericho area is very dangerous for Israel from a security point of view, hence the importance of the IDF operations in Aqbat Jaber.
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are taking advantage of the P.A.’s weakness and unwillingness to fight terrorism to establish armed terrorist groups, called “battalions,” throughout Judea and Samaria. So far, about 10 such terrorist groups have been established in the Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm areas.
Hamas’s Aqabat Jaber Battalion was an attempt to spread into the southern West Bank. The group grew in Jericho under the noses of the P.A. security forces.
P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned the IDF operation in Aqbat Jaber, calling it a crime. He demanded that the international community protect the Palestinians from Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken presented to the P.A. last week the Biden administration’s plan to calm the security situation in the northern West Bank, formulated by Gen. Michael Fenzel, the coordinator between the United States and the P.A. security forces. The plan had received Israel’s approval.
Fenzel proposed the establishment of a special Palestinian security force with American funding. It would undergo training in Jordan, return to the West Bank, and be stationed in Nablus and Jenin to confront the new terrorist groups that have emerged in the area.
Abbas expressed concern that the American plan would lead to civil war in the West Bank and paint him as Israel’s security contractor. He was tired of being the administration’s contractor without receiving any plan with a political horizon, he said.
Hamas will continue to attempt to hijack Jericho and other cities such as Qalqilya and Tulkarm in its effort to provoke a new armed intifada against Israel. Smuggled weapons are flowing into the West Bank at an increasing rate through the border with Jordan, and Israel’s security forces are finding it difficult to stop the phenomenon.
Hamas sources see Jericho as strategically important because of its proximity to Jerusalem and the border with Jordan. Hamas plans to turn it into the southern terrorist capital of the West Bank, just as Palestinian Islamic Jihad turned Jenin into the northern West Bank terrorist capital.
Aqbat Jaber has about 10,000 residents. The economic situation there is poor, and the Palestinian Authority neglects its care. Armed Fatah activists are present there and cooperate with Hamas operatives.
The battle between the IDF and the terrorist organizations for control of the Jericho area has only just begun. Senior Hamas official Souheil al-Hindi promised revenge for the death of the five terrorists. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh referred to the IDF operation in Aqbat Jaber and predicted a disaster for the “Israeli occupation.”
He promised that the new terrorist “battalions” would continue their actions against Israel.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.