The National / June 19, 2023
A senior security analyst fears the region might soon suffer a ‘much broader and more severe’ deterioration.
On Monday morning, Israeli forces entered the city of Jenin in the West Bank with orders to detain two Palestinian suspects.
The operation spiraled into hours of fighting that killed at least five Palestinians and injured at least 90.
It was the latest in a near-nightly series of raids that have been taking place during recent months as the country tries to contain a new wave of resistance that has claimed the lives of more than 20 Israelis in 2023.
This year, the deaths of more than 120 Palestinians, who have mostly been killed in the West Bank, were reported.
The operations rarely last more than a few hours, but Monday’s ended in the late afternoon, as Israeli forces found themselves stranded after Palestinian fighters used improvised explosive devices of a seemingly unprecedented strength, injuring seven soldiers.
As the situation deteriorated, Israel’s military fired missiles from an Apache helicopter to protect the stranded soldiers, the first time such firepower has been used since the Second Intifada two decades ago.
Palestinian media was soon awash with images of damaged Israeli vehicles, and young men parading wreckage through the streets.
Despite the operation’s conclusion, Kobi Michael, an Israeli security analyst, fears the ramifications of the raid might be felt for some time, perhaps to devastating effect.
“[This could be] a new chapter in the current symphony of the West Bank. I really hope that I’m wrong in my assessment,” Mr Michael told The National.
“The use of these explosive devices shows us first that [Palestinians] have the knowledge to make them, second the means, and third that they have the motivation to use them and therefore accept the escalation.”
Israeli politicians, including ministers in the current government – which is widely viewed as the most right-wing in the country’s history – have called for a harsh response.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a tweet: “There are no compromises in the fight against terrorism. We will continue to take an offensive approach. We will use all the means at our disposal and we will cripple the terrorist elements wherever they are found.”
Senior politician Avigdor Lieberman said the government “must launch an extensive, large-scale military operation [in the northern West Bank]”.
However, Mr Michael believes the nature of the Palestinian response points to something Israel’s security establishment has long feared: the encroaching nature of sophisticated regional terrorist groups into the West Bank, led by the country’s arch-enemy, Iran.
“I think the fingerprints of who provided [Palestinian fighters] the ability to deploy these weapons are those of Hezbollah and Iran. That means those two parties are working to escalate the situation … If this happens, we might see another cycle of fighting that is more serious than the ones we’ve seen so far this year,” he said.
Those cycles include deadly rocket fire with militants in the Gaza Strip, most recently in May.
Adding to concerns, are increasingly limited traditional avenues to de-escalate tensions in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Mr Michael pointed to Cairo’s crucial role in defusing clashes between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and increasingly the West Bank, with which Egypt does not share a border, unlike Gaza.
“It is in Egypt’s interest … It understands the interface between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I think, therefore, that they will try to calm the situation there as well,” he said.
“They have open channels with [Gaza-based] Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and of course Hamas, but they are more limited with regard to the West Bank in comparison to their options in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
“Their challenge will be to keep the Gaza Strip calm and disconnected from the West Bank, but I’m not sure that they will be able to do so for a very long period of time. So, generally speaking, I can say that we are on a very slippery slope.”
Thomas Helm is Jerusalem Correspondent at The National
Israeli forces withdraw from Jenin after heavy fighting
Thomas Helm a.o.
The National / June 19, 2023
Five Palestinians killed and at least 90 injured during operation that saw Apache helicopter deployed, militant IEDs and seven Israeli troops injured.
Seven Israeli soldiers were also wounded throughout the course of the day, after armoured vehicles became stranded following the use of powerful improvised explosive devices that Israeli analysts warn could mark a dramatic increase in the capabilities of Palestinian fighters in the occupied West Bank.
Israel’s military fired missiles from an Apache helicopter to protect the stranded troops, the first time such firepower has been deployed since the Second Intifada, which took place two decades ago.
The raid was initially launched to capture two suspects in the northern city of Jenin.
A 15-year-old boy was among the Palestinians killed. A girl of the same age is in a critical condition, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s armed faction, Al-Quds Brigades, said two of its fighters, Qassam Abu Sariya (29) and Qais Jabarin (21), were also killed.
The ministry added that at least six others were seriously wounded in the attack, including a girl who was shot in the head.
Later on Monday, two Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire near the village of Toura, southwest of Jenin, with one of them in “critical condition,” according to the official Palestinian WAFA news agency, which reported Israeli forces blocking entry to Palestinian emergency services. It gave no additional details on the incident.
Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported its army “neutralized” two individuals who attempted to run over soldiers stationed in the area, but provided no further details.
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland expressed his concern over the events in Jenin, saying they “threaten to plunge Palestine and Israel deeper into a deadly crisis.”
During the course of the day, an Israeli military spokesman told The National: “We have vehicles stuck in the area and an Apache helicopter providing aerial support. We are trying to contain the situation.
“Our main goal is to get the wounded soldiers to a safe area and that this operation ends as quickly as it can.”
The Israeli military said there was a “massive exchange of fire” and that “large numbers of explosive devices” were thrown at the troops during the operation to arrest the two suspects.
As Israeli forces tried to withdraw, an armoured personnel carrier was damaged by what appeared to be an IED, it said.
A source told The National that the device was concealed in a rubbish bin. Israeli security expert Kobi Michael told The National that he feared the raid marked “a new chapter in the current symphony of the West Bank”.
“We have all the components for further deterioration into something that is much broader and more severe. I don’t want to use the term ‘Third Intifada,’ but it would be something more than the regular collisions that we’ve seen in the last year,” he added.
Since the beginning of the year, Israel has launched near daily raids in the West Bank, and has traded rocket fire with militants in the Gaza Strip, most recently in May.
Mr Michael drew particular attention to the significance of the type of explosive devices used by Palestinians during the Israeli operation, saying it represents an “upgrade in the clashes between [Israeli] forces and local Palestinian factions, mainly Palestinian Islamic Jihad”.
“The use of these explosive devices shows us first that they have the knowledge to make them, second the means and third that they have the motivation to use them and therefore accept the escalation,” he said.
“I think the fingerprints of who provided them the ability to deploy these weapons are those of Hezbollah and Iran. That means those two parties are working to escalate the situation.”
Amateur video footage from Jenin also appeared to show an Israeli Apache helicopter launching flares during the army operation.
The use of flares implies that pilots feared Jenin fighters could have anti-aircraft capabilities.
A number of Israeli politicians, including from within the government, have called for a strong response.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant tweeted: “There are no compromises in the fight against terrorism. We will continue to take an offensive approach. We will use all the means at our disposal and we will cripple the terrorist elements wherever they are found.”
Senior Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman said in the afternoon that the government “must launch an extensive, large-scale military operation [in the northern West Bank]”.
He also blamed Gaza-based militant group Hamas for the fighting, calling for Israeli forces to resume assassinations of its leaders.
The UAE strongly condemned Israeli attacks on Jenin and its camp through air strikes and shootings, which resulted in deaths and injuries.
In a statement, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Israeli authorities to “reduce escalation, and avoid steps that exacerbate tension and violence in the Palestinian territories”.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, warning of the dangers of escalation against the Palestinian people.
In a social media post, it said more attacks could inflame the situation and undermine efforts to reduce tension.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, accused Israel of waging “a fierce and open war” and said President Mahmoud Abbas would make “unprecedented decisions” in an emergency meeting.
The Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, threatened further unrest on Monday in response to the operation in Jenin.
“All the cities of the West Bank and its resistance fighters are ready to respond to the aggression in Jenin, and let the enemy know that the [Palestinians are never] defeated no matter how many crimes and sacrifices they endure,” the group said.
About 123 Palestinians have been killed this year in months of violence focused mainly in the West Bank.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians seek those territories for a future independent state.
Near-nightly Israeli raids in the West Bank are in response to a spasm of Palestinian violence early last year. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have surged during that time.
Israel said most of the dead were militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting against the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed at least 20 people this year.
Thomas Helm is Jerusalem Correspondent at The National