Wednesday's announcement by the Shin Bet security service that it had arrested dozens of Hamas militants from the West Bank, including the terror cell behind the murder in March of a British tourist in Jerusalem, and had prevented a suicide bombing in the city last month, points to an significant uptick in the activity of the military wing of Hamas in the West Bank.
In the past five years these militants had lowered their profile, carrying out few terror attacks. Most of the organization's leaders on the ground had been killed or jailed by Israel, while others were pursued by the Palestinian security forces.
Meanwhile, 13 army vehicles on an Israel Defense Forces base near Ramallah were vandalized on Wednesday by extreme right-wing Jewish activists as part of their "price tag" operation.
The activities of the 13 Hamas cells prior to the arrests expresses a partial recovery of the terror infrastructure on the West Bank, albeit only one terror attack was carried out, the explosion near the International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha'uma ) in which Mary Jean Gardner died. The arrests foiled a suicide attack in Pisgat Ze'ev at the last moment and a number of cells were allegedly in the advanced stages of preparing to kidnap IDF soldiers.
The terror infrastructure was maintained in part by activists who did time in Israeli prisons; during their relatively brief sentences they forged contacts in Hamas and gained theoretical knowledge about terror operations. Some of the militants received direct instructions from Hamas prisoners incarcerated in Ketziot.
The renewed terror activity reflects not only operational capabilities but also policy considerations: While the organization's leadership is not interested in another confrontation with Israel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip at present, it apparently has no objection in principle to suicide attacks and abductions whose perpetrators come from the West Bank. Shin Bet officials believe the attacks were approved by the Hamas command in Damascus.
IDF pays the price
Right-wing extremists protesting the demolition of homes in illegal West Bank settler outposts have turned their wrath on a new target, the IDF. After two years of torching mosques and destroying Palestinian property to exact a "price" for curbs on settlements, activists vandalized 13 IDF vehicles at the Beit El army base on Wednesday. Chief of Staff Benny Gantz termed the vandalism the work of "a gang of extremist criminals." Gantz promised that the perpetrators would face rapid arrest and emphasized that "the IDF is not the enemy."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak denounced the destructive acts. The Shin Bet and the police are looking into vandalism, with investigators surmising the vandals had help from soldiers serving at the base.
Wednesday's incident was the first in several years involving right-wing activists breaking into an army base. The assumption is that it was a response to the demolition earlier this week of three homes in the illegal Migron outpost, and it bears remembering that the Jeeps whose tires were slashed and cables cut are used by soldiers in their security patrols of the settlers themselves.
Slogans denouncing Col. Sa'ar Tzur, commander of the Binyamin (Ramallah ) Brigade were sprayed on the damaged vehicles. Like his own commander, Brig Gen. Nitzan Alon, Tzur was marked out a few months ago as an enemy of the settlement movement for demonstrating a willingness to confront lawbreakers.
This week, the extreme right-wing added another name to its list of "targets," that of Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, head of the Civil Administration in the Judea and Samaria region. Almoz's "sin" was to send out an internal document headed "Summer camp is over" in which he demanded an end to the excuses for not carrying out the demolition orders for construction in illegal outposts. The enforcement of orders against illegal Palestinian building would be halted, Almoz wrote, until the Civil Administration goes back to enforcing the law against Jews.
September's upcoming vote in the United Nations General Assembly looms in the background of all these developments, and the settlers are happy to fan the flames. But something else is going on as well: Knesset members such as Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) and their hilltop supporters are hoping that targeting the IDF will deter the military establishment from carrying out the numerous demolitions it has promised the High Court in the next few months.
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