(JNS) Large-scale Israeli military operations in Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank, may become necessary this year following an escalation in Palestinian terrorism in recent days, a former defense official says.
Col. (res.) David Hacham, a senior research associate at the MirYam Institute and a former Arab relations adviser to seven Israeli defense ministers, told JNS that the murderous attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem on Friday and Saturday were conducted “coldly and brutally by young east Jerusalem residents, who were brainwashed by anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish incitement.”
Khair Alkam, the 21-year-old who carried out the massacre of seven civilians outside of a synagogue in the city’s Neve Ya’akov neighborhood on Friday night, was shot and killed by police. Muhammad Aliwat, the 13-year-old who used a handgun to fire on and seriously wound a father and son returning from prayers, was shot and wounded by the son, an Israel Defense Forces paratroop officer who was on leave.
“They carried out an attack motivated by intensive incitement on Palestinian social media networks, which enters the minds of Palestinian youths,” said Hacham.
“These youngsters from east Jerusalem had blue Israeli identity cards. As a result, both of them were free to walk around Jerusalem and visit any location in Israel without interference or monitoring,” he added.
Terrorists as heroes
“Terrorists are portrayed in Palestinian society as martyrs and heroes and are embraced as a symbol of the Palestinian struggle against Israel, while their families receive financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian society glorifies the dead terrorists, which encourages other young people to follow in their footsteps and join the cycle of terrorism against Israeli targets,” Hacham said.
The near-universal backing for terrorism in Palestinian society was expressed in the celebrations of Friday’s Jerusalem attack in Palestinian cities and villages in Judea and Samaria and Gaza, he said. Candies were distributed, cars were honked, and loud chants of “Allahu Akbar” were heard alongside the playing of loud songs, accompanied by fireworks and other displays of joy, he noted.
Hacham also linked the latest escalation to events in Judea and Samaria, where on Thursday, Israeli security forces shot dead nine Palestinians—eight of them gunmen—in a firefight in Jenin as they broke up a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell preparing large-scale, imminent terror attacks.
“These incidents are occurring against the backdrop of the PA’s [the Palestinian Authority’s] obvious weakness. The PA is struggling to control territory. It does not control Jenin, where its security forces are barred from entering. Similarly, PA control in Nablus and Hebron has been eroded to varying degrees. Under these conditions, the IDF operates in areas from which the PA is absent, and this further weakens its posture and authority and reveals its fragility,” he assessed.
Hacham also called attention to the fact that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas did not denounce the synagogue attack in Jerusalem in even the mildest terms. This lack of condemnation reflects the fierce anti-Israeli environment that prevails on the Palestinian street today, in which any condemnation “would be perceived negatively by Palestinians,” Hacham said.
Israel must prepare for the possibility of a major escalation, according to Hacham, who cautioned that additional terrorist attacks on Israeli targets “could only be a matter of time.”
“There is already a need to prepare for the increase in tensions caused by Ramadan, which this year begins in the second half of March, and Passover, which follows it,” he said.
The IDF already mobilized three additional battalions to Judea and Samaria over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, the Israeli Security Cabinet announced a series of steps to respond to the escalation, including the sealing of the home of the terrorist behind the Neve Ya’akov massacre, which was carried out on Sunday.
In addition, National Insurance Institute rights and supplementary benefits will be revoked from the families of terrorists who support their actions, and legislation on the revocation of Israeli identity cards from terrorists’ relatives who support terrorism will be addressed by the Cabinet.
Firearm licensing will be expedited and expanded to allow thousands of additional Israeli citizens to carry weapons.
Reinforcement of military and police units, increased arrests, and targeted operations to confiscate illegal weapons will take place as well, the Security Cabinet said.
Hacham said there will be a need for more demolitions of homes of terrorists, and pinpoint security operations based on high-quality, accurate intelligence, but he also called for efforts by Israel to develop a low-profile dialogue with the PA.
He praised the Security Cabinet’s decisions while cautioning that if the terrorist attacks continue, Israel will need to take more significant steps such as embarking on military operations on a larger scale.
“The notion of capital punishment for terrorists, as called for by [National Security Minister] Itamar Ben-Gvir, may be counterproductive, as it is unlikely to deter potential terrorists who are willing to conduct attacks knowing they will almost certainly die. Furthermore, the execution of terrorists may encourage Palestinian terror organizations to kidnap Israeli civilians and troops in order to use them as a bargaining chip to secure the release of terrorists from prison,” said Hacham.
He called for a balancing act by Israel in its response, to include firm action but to avoid steps that could end up pouring fuel on the fire.
Hamas’s double game
“Under these conditions, Hamas in Gaza appears uninterested in a new conflict with Israel and continues to strengthen the capabilities of its military wing in the Strip while supporting an economic improvement plan that includes 17,000 Gazans entering Israel for work,” said Hacham.
“Hamas’s double game, expressed by preserving the calm in Gaza and reaping all of the rewards it offers, continues, while it incites intensively through all its channels of influence for terrorism in east Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, cannot continue like this,” he continued.
“I believe messages have been sent from Israel to Hamas via Egypt to stop this. It is totally unacceptable to Israel,” said Hacham, adding that it could be a cause of renewed conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
The two terrorist attacks in the capital represent “a new peak in a trend of escalation that has characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past year,” he said. “This comes less than a month after the formation of a new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The terrorist who carried out the City of David attack was extremely young—only 13 years old—and he apparently obtained a firearm from a relative before setting out on the attack under the influence of incitement on Palestinian social media, Hacham noted.
“It is important to note how the attacks were carried out. Both were started by youths who had no formal ties to terrorist factions,” he said.
Already before the latest Jerusalem atrocities, the PA announced on Thursday, following the Jenin gun battle, that it would end security coordination with Israel.
Despite the tensions with the PA, Israel has no interest in its collapse, which could facilitate a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria, Hacham said.
“It is reasonable to assume that after a short period of suspension, coordination will likely resume to some extent, as this is a necessary link that is part of a shared interest,” he said.
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