Israeli Army Expects Escalation in West Bank in Absence of Calming Efforts

Economic improvement or close cooperation with Palestinian forces could help ease tensions, IDF says.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Palestinian militants take part in the funeral of Srur Abu Srur, who was killed by Israeli army, in Aida refugee camp in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 13, 2016.
Palestinian militants take part in the funeral of Srur Abu Srur, who was killed by Israeli army, in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, January 13, 2016.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israeli army believes that there is a great potential for escalation in the West Bank in the absence of steps to ease tensions – whether by means of an economic improvement in the Palestinian Authority or close cooperation with the Palestinian security services.

After almost four months have passed since the start of the escalation in the territories, which the Israel Defense Forces marks as having begun on October 1 – the day of the attack near the settlement of Itamar in Samaria in which Eitam and Naama Henkin were killed.

On the positive side, the army notes that there have been almost no instances in which Palestinians with work permits carried out attacks – with the exception of the perpetrator of the attack in the Panorama Building in Tel Aviv, who had an Israeli residence permit, and the perpetrator of the attack in Modi’in, who was working with a permit at a construction site.

Only last week Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot emphasized that the IDF insists on a separation between terrorists and the rest of the population, adding that the fact that 120,000 Palestinians go out to work in Israel and in West Bank settlements is “an Israeli interest, and a restraining factor.”

On Monday, in the wake of the attack in Beit Horon, it was decided to impose a closure around the village of Beit Ur al-Tahta. As of Tuesday, the checkpoints preventing the exit of the Palestinian residents of the village, with the exception of cases defined as “humanitarian” (such as sick people or pregnant women), were still in operation.

The army says that there has been a decline in the number of attacks – even those considered severe – and in the number of demonstrations taking place at the centers of activity in the West Bank. But nevertheless, the latest sequence of attacks in Tekoa, Otniel, Anatot and on Monday in Beit Horon signal a change in the trend, in which the perpetrators of the attacks are directing their activity against the settlements in the West Bank.

The army still believes that the attacks were not organized, but rather young people operating without institutional support, with one incident following another and “infecting” it. The latest series of attacks inside the settlements also arouses fear in the defense establishment that it will attract imitators who will try to carry out similar attacks.

The IDF says that despite the number of shooting attacks during the period of escalation, as for example the murder in Itamar, the number of shooting attacks is still low – and there is potential for greater use of firearms in light of the fact that they are available. The explanation, in the opinion of the army, lies in two variables: in the fact that armed Tanzim fighters are not involved in the wave of terror, and the Palestinian public, for the most part, does not participate.

The army notes that the perpetrators of the attacks are the “post-Oslo” generation, adding that the older population, graduates of the second intifada in Kabatia and Sa’ir for example, have tried recently to operate organized local activities, so that the young people in the towns won’t go out to stab people.

The military assessment also emphasizes developments related to the Gaza Strip. Israel declared last week that Hamas is investing efforts in restoring its military capability by building tunnels leading into Israeli territory and renewing its inventory of rockets, among other things. The IDF believes that there is a probability of a conflict in the Gaza Strip, but says that such an escalation could come either from a miscalculation of Israeli steps or reactions, or as a “no-choice” move on the part of Hamas, which will try to bring about a drastic change the situation prevailing in Gaza.

With regard to the northern border, the IDF also estimates that there is a probability – defined as “medium” – that a dynamic of escalation with Hezbollah will develop. The organization, according to the IDF, is not interested in leading an initiated escalation against Israel, but it is possible that localized activity will cause a conflagration. The army believes that Hezbollah is willing to take risks and is investing a great deal in developing capabilities against Israel, whether by means of heavier and more accurate rockets or by entertaining the possibility of fighting on Israeli territory. Still, the number of Hezbollah casualties in Syria – over 1,300 fighters dead, almost twice as many as in the Second Lebanon War, and about 10,000 wounded – is of significance for Hezbollah.

In addition, the IDF has noted that the Sinai branch of Islamic State has becoming increasingly preoccupied with Israel and discusses fighting against Israel in the media. Although about 1,000 ISIS activists are fighting mainly against the Egyptian army, the IDF estimates that the threat to Israel is becoming more probable. Already now, in effect, the IDF believes that there was an attack in Israel inspired by the activity of ISIS – that carried out by Nashat Melhem, the perpetrator of the shooting attack in Tel Aviv on January 1.

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