Netanyahu Trying to Avoid Full-scale West Bank Military Operation

Such an operation, the prime minister knows, would only crush Palestinian rule in the West Bank, and is unlikely to thwart the recent wave of terror.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Palestinians burn tires during Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
Palestinians burn tires during Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Credit: AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Monday night’s cabinet meeting was the second security consultation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called in less than 48 hours after his return from the UN General Assembly in New York. In both cases, there seemed to be no reason to wait for a fateful announcement.

The Israeli leadership will continue to release determined statements in the face of Palestinian terror, in the hope of calming the more right-wing flank within Likud and the coalition, and the rising tide of anger among settlers. But the main steps decided on so far — among them increasing administrative detentions and demolishing terrorists’ homes — are old goods that Netanyahu is once again hawking to the public.

It seems Netanyahu hopes that these steps — increasing forces, arrest sweeps, intelligence gathering during interrogations, and perhaps improved coordination with Palestinian security forces — will be enough to gradually calm the mood.

The demolition of terrorists’ homes in the West Bank, for example, is a punishment that Netanyahu has waved around every few months since the murder of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrahi near Hebron 18 months ago.

The prime minister does not mention the fact that terrorism experts are divided over the effectiveness of this step (which an official Israel Defense Forces panel canceled as policy back in 2005).

An Israeli military vehicle drives through burning tires during a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.Credit: AP

And yet it seems Netanyahu is more sober in his approach than Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who on the eve of the holiday demanded an Operation Defensive Shield 2 — referring to the large-scale military campaign the IDF conducted in the West Bank in 2002, following a wave of terror attacks.

Last Thursday’s murders of Naama and Eitam Henkin near Nablus, which was seemingly quickly solved by the Shin Bet security service with Monday’s arrest of a five-man Hamas cell, is a relatively rare occurrence of an organized terror attack in the West Bank.

But most of those responsible for the recent fatal attacks and violent clashes are not part of a terror infrastructure. They stab or drive into Jews with their vehicles, or throw rocks at settlers’ cars, for two immediate reasons: Accusations by the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Movement in Israel that the Israeli government is changing the status quo on the Temple Mount (Netanyahu’s assertions that this is not true do not persuade them otherwise about Al-Aqsa Mosque); and fury over the murder of three members of the Dawabsheh family from the West Bank village of Duma about two months ago, whose Jewish perpetrators have yet to be apprehended.

If Katz, who is also the intelligence minister, imagines nests of terror operating under the aegis of the PA, perhaps he should devote more time to reading the reports he receives.

The outcome of an Operation Defensive Shield 2 at this time would be the crushing of PA rule in the West Bank. But this, for the time being, is precisely what Netanyahu wants to avoid. It is also unlikely to thwart the wave of terror. The answer for the moment, according to the prime minister and heads of the security establishment, is to expand the existing policy.

A Palestinian young man throws a bottle towards vehicles of Israeli security forces who search for the suspected Palestinian killers of a Jewish settler couple on October 6, 2015 in NablusCredit: AFP

Another intifada?

In the holiday eve issue of popular daily Yedioth Ahronoth, journalist Nahum Barnea proposed coming right out and calling it a third intifada. Barnea rightly said that the government does not want to call it that, because this would be an admission of its failure to provide security.

And yet we must remember that the media — and Netanyahu’s opponents in particular — have already tried a number of times to frame events of recent years this way, and they were wrong.

In all of 2014, 14 Israelis were killed in the West Bank and within the Green Line (not counting casualties from rockets from Gaza), as opposed to eight killed by terror in the first nine months of this year.

The difference is the marked decline in the public’s sense of security. A clear increase is being felt in the number of rock-throwing incidents on the roads and their severity, in addition to the violence in Jerusalem.

A Palestinian inspects the home of the Abu Jaber family that was demolished by the Israeli military in east Jerusalem, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.Credit: AP

To this must be added the somewhat hysterical atmosphere on social media, which also influences politicians’ responses.

The wave of terror is serious and worrisome. At the moment, though, it does not resemble a full-blown intifada because numbers at demonstrations in the cities do not reach thousands or even hundreds. Also, the violence has not spread to within the Green Line.

While Jerusalem was in shock over the murder of worshippers in the Old City on Saturday, Tel Aviv had a rock concert and a huge rally over animal rights.

It remains to be seen how events in Jerusalem and the West Bank will impact Israeli-Arabs and the Gaza Strip. At the moment, it is relatively quiet in both realms; clearly, continued violence and deaths will influence those situations as well.

Another disturbing element, as noted by the Shin Bet and the IDF, is the increase in violence by right-wing Israeli extremists and settlers, including damage to Palestinian property.

Some of the forces deployed in the West Bank must invest their efforts into calming things down rather than searching for terrorists. This violence is fueled by authentic anger over murder intentionally directed at parents and children in the West Bank and the Old City, but also by irresponsible statements by politicians.

Claims that the IDF commanders’ hands are tied are baseless: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot believes he has everything he needs to deal with the current violence.

In the background, settlers and their political representatives are calling for a response to terror by constructing outposts and neighborhoods.

It seems that international pressure will make it difficult for Netanyahu to accede to them. Instead, he proposes building more bypass routes.

That will take time and, in any case, is problematic: Roads that are for Israelis only mark those using them as clear targets for Palestinian terrorists.

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