Opinion

Unless Israel acts, Islamic Jihad will establish rocket cells in Judea and Samaria

The assassination of its West Bank commander Tarek az-Aldin during “Operation Shield and Arrow” will delay PIJ’s plans, but won't stop them.

An Israel Air Force strike on an Islamic Jihad target in the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
An Israel Air Force strike on an Islamic Jihad target in the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

On May 9, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Ronen Bar revealed that Israel had recently broken up a terror cell near Jenin that was in the process of producing rockets intended to be fired at Israeli targets from Samaria.

A recent video broadcast by Palestinian media showed the firing of a Qassam-type rocket in the Jenin area, apparently an experiment by the same squad. Security sources in Israel say that Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives in Jenin and Nablus are also trying to weaponize civilian drones.

Since the end of the Israel Defense Forces’ “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in Gaza in May 2021, PIJ has been establishing armed terrorist groups in northern Samaria, called “battalions,” in coordination with Iran.

To advance these efforts, PIJ Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhalah traveled to Tehran in August 2022, where he met with Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to receive funding and coordinate the smuggling of weapons into Judea and Samaria through Jordan.

The establishment of rocket cells in Judea and Samaria is another step toward implementing former IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani’s strategy of surrounding Israel with hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles and drones.

The Jenin rocket squad was directed by senior PIJ leader Tarek az-Aldin, who was killed by an IDF strike on May 9. The targeted killing was one of the essential components of the IDF’s “Operation Shield and Arrow,” with the goal of disrupting PIJ’s military establishment in northern Samaria.

“We have no intention of turning Afula into a target for terrorist attacks,” said Bar.

Az-Aldin, 49, was originally from the village of Araba in Samaria—the hometown of senior PIJ leader Khader Adnan, whose death in an Israeli prison due to a hunger strike served as the trigger for the recent round of fighting between Israel and PIJ.

Having served as a PIJ operative in the first and second intifadas, az-Aldin was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to life imprisonment for directing a suicide attack in the Israeli city of Hadera. He was released as part of the prisoner exchange deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, and deported to Gaza. In recent years, he advanced to the terrorist group’s command level in Gaza.

He was responsible for the connection between PIJ’s operations in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria, including the transfer of funds, and incited and directed terrorist attacks in Israeli territory from Gaza.

He was very close to Saleh al-Arouri, the head of Hamas’s military wing in Judea and Samaria (but based in Beirut), and had close operational and intelligence cooperation with him.

The activities of the Israeli security services to thwart PIJ’s plans in Judea and Samaria are essential. Still, there may be no escape from an extensive military operation in northern Samaria to arrest or kill the terrorists who have established themselves there during the past two years.

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.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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