These are vastly unsettled times, presenting huge challenges. What makes matters more difficult is a shifting of dynamics, both domestically and internationally. There is not a whole lot that is stable.
Bottom line: We must rely upon ourselves. That has always been the case, but right now is a time when standing strong for ourselves is particularly important.
Call it the third intifada, call it the approach of a new intifada, or find another name for what we are dealing with. It matters not. The simple fact is that Israel has been confronting greatly increased terror.
In the spring, there were major terror attacks: In late March and the weeks following, 19 Israeli civilians were killed in attacks, 11 in just three of those attacks.
In response to this terror, Israel began a major operation, dubbed “Operation Break the Wave,” to search for and arrest terrorists in the Shomron, most particularly in the Jenin area, which had once again become a hotbed of terrorist activity. (Back in 2002, Jenin was dubbed the “suicide bombers capital.”)
There is also IDF activity in the Nablus area, roughly 27 kilometers (16 miles) north of Jenin, where significant terrorist activity has been identified.
Most notable in the Jenin area is the activity of Palestinian Islamic Jihad – the largest and strongest terrorist group operating in the area. Increasingly, it operates in cooperation with Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is the military arm of Fatah. Fatah, chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, is the major faction of the PLO. With the recent launching of their “Summer Rains” operation, they threatened a “rain of fire” on Israel. A unit of the Brigades dedicated to “disruptions” [planned terror attacks] recently put out a message that declared:
“…This is a revolution until victory. This is jihad…”
The operations being undertaken almost nightly by the IDF in the Jenin area are essential. Their goal is the arrest of wanted terrorists and suspects (identified by intelligence sources) in order to foil imminent terror attacks. When the IDF moves in, it encounters pockets of violent resistance, so that gun battles ensue. But these operations have met with considerable success: the number of major terror attacks has been significantly reduced.
Head of the Shin Bet (General Security Service) Ronen Bar, speaking at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya on Sunday said that since January:
“We foiled 312 significant terrorist attacks, stabbings, shootings, suicide attacks, and have made 2,110 arrests.”
Several factors account for the growth of terror.
Hamas is seeking to overthrow the PA in Judea & Samaria, just as it did earlier in Gaza; it is inciting violence to that end. According to senior security officials, both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have been pouring money into the region to buy weapons, reward attackers and recruit new members.
Both groups depend on Iranian funding, and PIJ is a directly controlled Iranian proxy.
“Iran is the origin of most of the [terror] phenomena in the region and it also has a significant part in the instability we are experiencing in the Palestinian arena…. [It] isn’t just a nuclear problem, it is the underlying problem of the Middle East.”
The prospect of the increase in terrorism that the mullahs would engender if the nuclear deal were to go through (at present a prospect that is significantly reduced) is horrific.
The world – including the US! – has demonstrated scant concern about the billions that would come into the hands of the mullahs, billions that would be used to strengthen Israel’s terrorist enemies.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi sees another reason for the increase in terrorism: “Part of the increase in attacks is due to the inability of Palestinian security forces to properly govern in certain areas of the Judea and Samaria region. As a result these areas become fertile ground for the growth of terrorism.”
From what I’m reading, the failure of the PA to deal with terrorism can be broken into two aspects. One has to do with a weakening of the ability of the PA to function because Mahmoud Abbas is on his way out and there is tension between various persons competing to succeed him (none of whom, by the way, are remotely moderate).
But the other factor is a loss of will to work with Israel on security. In competing with Hamas for control of the area, working alongside Israel to combat terrorism may just not be the way to go. Security coordination is viewed as collaboration with the enemy.
A senior official present at a security assessment meeting prior to the High Holidays reported that, “There are concrete warnings that terror groups are planning to incite violence on the Temple Mount [Har Habayit]”.
But I have read that the PA rejected an Israeli request to ratchet up security cooperation to prevent problems.
The reality here is that Mahmoud Abbas routinely incites with regard to the Mount in any event.
According to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a resistance ethos exists in Jenin: The area has become a symbol of violent resistance. That ethos has not been eradicated by the sort of operations that are taking place. There is an “absence of comprehensive activity designed to strike a major blow against all terrorist infrastructure.” The attitude of local Palestinian Arabs to the IDF incursions has actually stiffened.
And so, while major terrorists and suspects have been apprehended, and major terror attacks are being foiled, it is not the case that all is quiet. Quite the contrary: According to official statistics, through July there have been 1,318 Palestinian Arab acts of violence called “nationalistic,” most occurring in Judea & Samaria. Over 800 of them have been fire-bombings.
These individual attacks do not make news the way that large scale attacks do: most people are unaware of them. (Which is why sharing this information is important.)
But the attacks are on-going. Sometimes the goal is to harass or threaten, but at other times the intent to kill is clearly evident.
Just today, September 14, at about dawn, two terrorists, acting in what is known as the seam zone north of Jenin, opened open fire on IDF troops.
Maj. Bar Falah, 30, the deputy commander of the elite Nahal reconnaissance unit, was killed.
The two gunmen, who were in possession of a sub-machine gun and another semi-automatic weapon, were subsequently shot dead. They were identified as coming from Kafr Dan near Jenin. One of them was an officer in the Palestinian Authority security services. This is not a terribly unusual circumstance, and should be noted well.
The two had been spotted earlier on a surveillance camera – although there was no indication at that point that they were armed. Troops were in the course of moving towards them to investigate and arrest them, when they opened fire. They had been planning to ambush troops.
Just yesterday, September 13, in the evening, a 70 year-old woman was lightly injured when a stone was thrown at her car, shattering the windshield, at the Yakir Junction in the Shomron.
A day earlier, Monday, September 12, Itamar Cohen, a Jewish shepherd, tending his flock on the Maon Farm in the Hebron Hills was smashed in the head by a hoe-wielding Palestinian Arab. The shepherd is in intensive care in Soroka Hospital. Mount Hebron Regional Council head Yohai Damri called the assault “an attempted murder.” Details are particularly disturbing:
The previous week, on September 8, a soldier stationed at a military post in Binyamin was attacked with a hammer aimed at his face. The soldier rallied enough to shot the terrorist, who was found to be carrying a knife. The soldier was lightly wounded.
Go back a few more days, to Sunday morning, September 4, when a bus carrying IDF soldiers from the Kfir Brigade, driving on a major highway near the small community of Hamra in the Jordan Valley, was attacked by members of a terrorist cell. They had overtaken the bus in a pick-up truck and began shooting. Seven people were injured: the civilian driver and six soldiers, one seriously.
After soldiers began to return fire, the assailants’ truck went up in flames – it is believed because of a flammable substance they carried with intent of using in the attack. The attackers then fled on foot, dropping their weapons as they ran.
Two of the attackers – relatives from the Jenin area – were apprehended. According to preliminary investigations the M-16 rifles they used had been provided by a terror group, along with funding.
A third attacker has been identified. He is a farmer living in the area. The vehicle used in the attack carried Israeli license plates: it was registered to the attacker’ wife, who reportedly has an Israeli ID.
In light of all that Israel must contend with, it is important to have a clear picture of the US response.
Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot on May 11, while covering a gun battle in Jenin between IDF forces and locals.
It was precisely the sort of situation I described above, during which the IDF sought to apprehend terrorists and met with resistance.
A great many unreasonable accusations were leveled at Israel by various nations and organizations, regarding an Israeli soldier having deliberately gunned her down. I do not intend to revisit this matter in detail, but will point out that hundreds of journalists die when covering conflict every year. It happens.
Israel conducted an independent investigation into the matter and released findings on July 5. Final determination could not be made because the bullet, which had been in the hands of the PA, was “damaged,” so that a ballistic test to determine which gun it had been shot from could not be determined.
None the less, Israel indicated that there was a good possibility that the bullet had been shot by an IDF solder, who hit Abu Akleh by mistake. It remained a question of probabilities, however, as without the ballistic test final determination was impossible. “Another possibility remains that Abu Akleh was hit by bullets fired by Palestinian militants,” concluded the report.
This was not sufficient for the Biden administration. A day later, US State Department spokesman Ned Price weighed in: “We would want to see accountability in any case of wrongful death, especially in the wrongful death of an American citizen…Our goal…is to see to it that something akin to this, the killing of a journalist in a conflict zone, must not happen again.”
But this is not a reasonable, not a tenable, demand being made of Israel. How can IDF soldiers, in the midst of attack by terrorist forces, or those rioting on behalf of terrorists, guarantee that a journalist who chooses to be present to cover the action is never hit by stray gunfire?
And there was more, as last week the Biden administration began pressing Israel to review and possibly revise its rules of engagement. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters: “We will continue to press Israel directly and closely at the senior-most levels to review its policies and practices on this to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Unmitigated gall is what I would call this. A number of our top officials obviously felt the same, although they said it differently.
Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responded that: “This is the truth: At any given moment there are Palestinian terrorists trying to murder Israelis. Not the other way around…the moral order is to hit terrorists and thus save human lives….I expect our friends in the world not to preach morality to us but to back us in our war on terror.”
While Prime Minister Yair Lapid clarified that: “I will not allow an IDF soldier who was protecting himself from terrorist fire to be prosecuted just to receive applause from abroad. No one will dictate our rules of engagement to us, when we are the ones fighting for our lives…”
But my very favorite comment came from Danny Danon, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN:
“No doubt, the US State Department is absolutely right. We must change the rules of engagement, to make sure that our soldiers can protect themselves and make it easier for them to shoot terrorists. There is nothing more important and sacred than the lives of IDF soldiers.”
The tipoff, of course, is in what Bennett said: “I expect our friends…” Israel must know that she stands alone, and that tough is the only way to go.
It’s not just the issue of our rules of engagement, either. The Biden administration is continuing to shove the “two-state solution” down our throats.
In order to move this “solution” forward, US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides tells us, we must make things easier for the Palestinian Arabs. He suggested enhancing freedom of movement for them. Enhanced freedom of movement in the midst of increased terrorism? This from a man who claims the US has our back.
Said Nides, one of the reasons Biden visited a Palestinian hospital in eastern Jerusalem in July is because he doesn’t want to lose the Palestinian street.
Someone needs to tell Nides that the hospital visited by Biden operates under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Health. What Palestinian street?
More on this, much more, over time.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.