Israel Fears Surge of Attacks in West Bank, East Jerusalem Ahead of Jewish Holidays

On the northern front: Just as the Syria cease-fire takes effect, Iron Dome shoots down two rockets fired at Israel following no less than five cross-border incidents.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Israeli forces at the scene of an attack, where a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli soldier before he was shot dead, in Hebron, September 17, 2016.
Israeli forces at the scene of an attack, where a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli soldier before he was shot dead, in Hebron, September 17, 2016.Credit: Hazem Bader, Reuters
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

For the first time in several months there was a steep rise in terror attacks in Israel's occupied territories – five in only three days. In a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, a car-ramming attempt outside Hebron and two stabbings in Hebron, two soldiers were lightly wounded and four Palestinians – the suspected attackers – were killed, after being shot to dead by Israeli forces. On Sunday morning, a reservist company commander was wounded in a stabbing attack in Efrat, the attacker was shot and seriously wounded.

The reasons for the new outbreak are not clear. It may be a combination of an atmosphere of religious fervor due to the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) and in advance of the Jewish High Holy Days season Tishrei. About a year ago, violence erupted similarly in East Jerusalem and from there moved to the West Bank and areas inside Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces decided on Shabbat on a minor reinforcement – a battalion from the infantry Kfir Brigade will be sent to the West Bank in the wake of the incidents. Additional reinforcement is expected before the Jewish holidays. However, if it turns out that another self-fueling wave of terror is beginning in Hebron, where relatives and neighbors of the dead embark on retaliatory terror attacks, the army will have to allocate more forces to the city at an earlier stage.

The swift firing at the attackers by security forces– the incident on Saturday in Hebron was recorded in full by security cameras and the video clip was aired – proves that, contrary to claims by the right, soldiers are not afraid to respond with fire in case of danger, despite the trial of Sgt. Lior Azaria, on trial for shooting an incapacitated terrorist in the West Bank city.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights on September 10, 2016 shows smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab.Credit: Jalaa Marey, AFP

This week senior reserve officers are expected to testify for the defense at his trial. If those testimonies coincide with a renewed escalation in the territories, the discussion of the Azaria affair and its implications for the IDF is expected to be the focus of public interest once again.

Cease-fire? What Syrian cease-fire?

Along with the sharp uptick in incidents in the occupied territories, there was misdirected fire in the north. The fighting between the Assad regime and rebel groups in the northern Golan Heights led to tensions on the Israeli side of the border over the weekend. For the first time, Iron Dome batteries were in action in the north, intercepting two rockets that could have landed close to Israeli communities.

The fighting in Syria is taking place at a distance ranging from hundreds of meters to a few kilometers from the Israeli border. The rebels are trying to push the Syrian army and militias supporting it northward, expelling them from their positions in the town of Quneitra and the Druze village of Khader. The shooting has continued unabated, despite the cease-fire that went into effect across Syria last Monday. Almost daily, some of it spills over into Israeli territory. The army believes that Saturday’s rockets — probably 107-mm. Katyusha rockets, although they may have been mortar shells — were fired by the rebels.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system assessed that these might land inside Israel, so two successful interceptions took place over Syrian territory. In retrospect, it’s believed they would have landed in Syria, but the proximity did not allow for any risks to be taken.

Last week, there were at least five similar incidents, with the rockets in those cases being fired by Assad regime forces. In response, Israel attacked Syrian military positions from the air. In one instance, surface-to-air missiles were launched against Israeli planes.

A missile is launched by an Iron Dome battery, July 13, 2014, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.Credit: AP

Israel will find it difficult to blame President Bashar Assad this time, though it could hold his regime responsible for maintaining quiet on the border, as it does with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Ironically, the week in which a cease-fire was declared saw more repercussions on the Israeli side of the border.

Meanwhile, there are increasing signs of problems in enforcing the cease-fire agreement across Syria, with growing tension between its proponents — the United States and Russia. Over the weekend, Russia accused rebel groups of no fewer than 199 violations of the cease-fire. With Russian backing, Assad attacked rebel-controlled areas in Aleppo, Homs and other cities.

Moscow is calling on the Americans to convene the UN Security Council in order to ratify the agreement while publishing all its details. Russian media hint that the Americans are reluctant, since this will reveal the extent to which they’ve abandoned the forces they supported, such as the Kurds and moderate Sunni groups.

Another key reason for the tension stems from a U.S. commitment to join Russia in aerial attacks on extremist Islamist groups. The Pentagon has reservations about an agreement reached by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. It believes sharing intelligence with the Russians will have grave consequences.

Washington conditions launching these attacks on the Assad regime abiding by its commitment to grant aid convoys access to besieged areas. A huge convoy meant to supply Aleppo has been waiting near the Turkish border for days. All these developments raise concerns that the cease-fire will collapse soon, like earlier ones.

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