The Limited Potential of the Operation in Jenin

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What can we expect from the Israel Defense Forces’ current operation in Jenin?

According to the IDF, the goal of the operation is to disable the massive terror infrastructure that Palestinian groups have built in the Jenin refugee camp.

Over the past year-and-a-half, due to the policies of the previous government and to IDF support for those policies, the area has become a mini-Gaza. In September 2021, in conjunction with then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Central Command head Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs ordered a five-month moratorium on IDF operations in Jenin, in the interest of “strengthening the Palestinian Authority.”

The current operation then is geared towards repairing the damage caused by the policies of the previous government and Central Command. As IDF Spokesman R. Adm. Daniel Hagari explained Monday morning in a spate of television and radio interviews, the purpose of the operation is not to seize control over Jenin or parts of the city. It is not directed against the P.A. It is meant simply to regain the tactical advantage and degrade the capabilities of the terror groups operating in the refugee camp.

As a limited, tactical engagement, the operation has limited, but important, potential. Over the past several weeks, the Palestinians have shot four rudimentary rockets at Israeli communities from Jenin. Although military experts insist these were mere pop guns, the missile industry in Gaza began the same way in 2000. Today, missiles from Gaza have ranges that cover most of the country. The operation in Jenin can destroy all the rocket workshops and kill or arrest all of the terrorist operatives engaged in the development of the rocket program.

The operation in Jenin can also disrupt and degrade the Palestinian terror capacity by killing and capturing the terror commanders and foot soldiers who together have been carrying out shooting, stoning, roadside bomb and pipe bomb attacks against Israelis throughout the region. These attacks have made life a crap shoot for tens of thousands of Israeli citizens who live and work in the communities in northern Samaria and the Binyamin region.

In the hours before the operation in Jenin began, Palestinian terrorists carried out four shooting attacks against Israeli vehicles, communities and IDF personnel in the area around the city. To get a sense of the magnitude of the problem, every day Palestinians from Jenin and the wider area carry out hundreds of stoning attacks against Israeli vehicles on the roads. And according to the Shin Bet, in May alone, Palestinians attacked Israeli vehicles with Molotov cocktails 139 times. They carried out 51 pipe bomb attacks and 11 shooting attacks.

While some of the terror infrastructure behind these attacks is located in Nablus, and in villages like Huwara and Umm Tzafa, because of the free rein terror groups enjoy in Jenin, the bulk of the operational infrastructure is located in Jenin.

Strategic problem

The fact that the current operation is a tactical engagement doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t strategic. It is. But unfortunately, the IDF doesn’t share the Netanyahu government’s understanding of the strategic realities on the ground. And as a result, a wider operation is unlikely.

This disparity was exposed Sunday by an in-depth study of Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs and his ideological assessment of the region published by Hakol Hayehudi news service. The report included an interview with a top officer in Central Command. In a remarkable exchange, journalist Elchanan Groner asked the unnamed top officer whether the Palestinian Authority is Israel’s enemy.

“Absolutely not. The Palestinians are not an enemy and the P.A. is not an enemy and really doesn’t encourage terrorism,” the top officer said.

The statement by the top officer was jaw-dropping. As Palestinian Media Watch reported last week, Fatah, the PLO faction led by P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas, bragged in its official media organs last week that U.S.-trained P.A. security personnel carry out two-thirds of all terrorist attacks against Israel.

The P.A. devotes 7% of its U.S.-funded budget to paying salaries to terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails and pensions to the families of dead terrorists. These salaries rise with the severity of the crimes. The base salary is NIS 1,400 a month for rock throwers. Terrorists receive extra money if they murder Jews and the more Jews they murder, the more money they make. On average, the salary of terrorists is three times the average income in P.A.-ruled areas. Yet, the top Central Command officer insisted that the P.A. opposes terrorism.

In his words, “The P.A. views it as a failure when a member of their security forces shoots Israelis. They handle it and put him in jail. I absolutely do not define them as an enemy.”

He added, “It’s possible that a day will come where they embark on another path, and then we’ll define them as an enemy. Abu Mazen [aka Abbas] doesn’t love us, but he opposes terrorism. He is terrible to us in the international arena. But he opposes terrorism.”

Although he admitted that the P.A. pays salaries to terrorists, and that the policy is “a problematic story that is liable to encourage terrorism,” he insisted that it is “very complicated.”

Central Command

Rather than focus on the P.A.’s role in the violence, in recent weeks, top Central Command officers have been focusing their ire on the Jews in the region. The day before the current operation in Jenin, Channel 11 reported that the IDF, Shin Bet and police are forming a joint unit to quell “settler violence.”

The move followed a series of actions against Israeli Jews in the region capped off last week with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s order to place four Israeli Jews under administrative detention for six months despite the absence of evidence of wrongdoing by them. A magistrate’s court judge, citing the absence of incriminating evidence, ordered the four released from jail last week.

The current IDF onslaught against Israeli residents of the region came after last Saturday, when hundreds of area residents entered Umm Tzafa and set fire to Palestinian homes. The media, the Biden administration and the IDF all zoned in on the incident, using it to buttress the narrative that “settler violence” is the propellant driving Palestinian terrorism. That is, the presence of Jews in northern Samaria and the Binyamin region is the “root cause” of Palestinian terrorism.

Last Friday, Maariv journalist Kalman Liebskind exposed the full picture, which is quite different from the narrative that has taken hold. Last Monday, terrorists from the Palestinian village of Urif in the Binyamin region massacred four Jews dining in a restaurant in the neighboring Jewish village of Eli. In the days following the massacre, Palestinians from the neighboring village of Umm Tzafa carried out continuous assaults on Jewish vehicles traveling on Route 465.

Rather than enter Umm Tzafa and round up the hundreds of villagers attacking the Israeli motorists with rocks and boulders, the IDF shut down Route 465 to Israeli traffic for several hours on Thursday and again on Friday morning.

On Saturday, a cowherd from the region was attacked by hundreds of Palestinians from Umm Tzafa. When the IDF failed to deploy forces to protect him from the hundreds of Palestinians attacking him and his cows with fireworks and rocks, he called the residents in the surrounding villages, who broke the Sabbath restrictions to save him. Rather than thank the Jewish villagers, the IDF joined Peace Now and other leftist and anarchist groups in castigating them as violent
thugs for brandishing their weapons to protect the cowherd.

Later that evening, still raging from the attempted murder of their friend just days after four of their friends were murdered at Eli, dozens of area residents entered Umm Tzafa and carried out their arson attacks. While deserving of condemnation and criminal, the arson rampage looks a lot different when seen in the context of events, including the IDF’s inaction.

This is the heart of the problem. While the immediate cause of the expansion of the terrorist infrastructure in Jenin was Fuchs’s stand-down order in September 2021, the deeper reason Jenin has become a mini-Gaza is rooted in Israel’s disastrous 2005 withdrawal from northern Samaria. At the time, believing that the P.A. would behave responsibly and quell the terror groups operating in the region, the Sharon government ordered the destruction of four Israeli communities and the withdrawal of the IDF from its brigade headquarters in the area.

In the event, depending on whom you talk to, the P.A. either lost control over the region and Iranian-backed terror groups took over, or, according to Fatah, the P.A. has led the Iranian-backed terror groups in their transformation of the region into a second Gaza Strip.

Recognizing that the 2005 withdrawal, rather than “settler violence,” forms the root of the present crisis, in March the coalition repealed the 2005 Disengagement Law in relation to northern Samaria. The move was the first step towards enabling the repopulation of the destroyed communities, beginning with Homesh, where the government approved the operation of a yeshiva.

Presumably, the move also presages the return of the Menashe Territorial Brigade (also known as the Jenin Brigade) to its original position.

Since Israel has not applied its law to Judea and Samaria, for the Knesset’s action to go into effect, Gen. Fuchs must sign an administrative order. To date, Fuchs has refused to sign the order. By so acting, Fuchs actively subverts and prevents the government from implementing its strategic vision for northern Samaria.

Empty suit

To be sure, Netanyahu said this week that he opposes any effort to dismantle the P.A. But it is not at all clear that the decision is Israel’s to make. As Arab affairs commentator Baruch Yedid reported on Monday morning, a recent poll showed that 50% of Palestinians believe it is their national interest to dismantle the P.A. Sixty-three percent want Abbas to resign. Seventy-one percent support the terror groups operating in northern Samaria.

Beyond that, the term “Palestinian Authority” is an empty suit. The question is who fills it and what he does. The Netanyahu government does not view the P.A. as presently constituted as a positive force or one interested in fighting terrorism. And given its personnel’s leading role in terrorism, the government’s view is grounded in reality.

From the top officer’s statements to Hakol Hayehudi, and from statements by Fuchs and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, it is apparent that the IDF’s strategic vision for the region is far different. It is more aligned with the Biden administration’s policies than with the Netanyahu government’s policies. Like the administration, the IDF’s top leadership views the Jewish communities in the region as obstacles to security and the P.A. as the preferred partner for fighting Palestinian terrorism.

What this means is that the limited, tactical operation in Jenin the IDF is currently undertaking is the best that we can expect to receive in Judea and Samaria for now. So long as Fuchs remains the commanding officer, and so long as the IDF General Staff refuses to accept strategic realities unaligned with its leadership’s ideological convictions, there is unlikely to be any positive strategic shift in the reality on the ground.

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