Analysis |

Jenin Emerges as Hub of Israel's New Terror Wave

The Israeli military may launch more raids on West Bank city, but that won’t necessarily foil lone-wolf attacks ■ As Bennett struggles on the Palestinian front, some potential good news awaits on Iran

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
Tear gas canisters are fired from an Israeli military vehicle near the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank, on Saturday.
Tear gas canisters are fired from an Israeli military vehicle near the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank, on Saturday.Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH - AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The terrorist who murdered three Israelis in an attack in Tel Aviv on Thursday night did one more thing – he gave Israel a target for its response.

The common thread between the first three deadly attacks in recent weeks, in Be’er Sheva, in Hadera and in Bnei Brak, was the near-complete lack of a common thread. The perpetrators did not act under any organizational framework and came from different areas, according to intelligence agencies.

The perpetrators of the attacks in Be’er Sheva and Hadera were Israeli Arabs, and Islamic State supporters. The Bnei Brak terrorist was a Palestinian from the Jenin area. But the three-member squad killed by special forces over a week ago, en route to the separation barrier, were residents of greater Jenin, as was the terrorist who struck at Tel Aviv on Thursday.

That is the backdrop to the decision to send Israel Defense Forces on Saturday morning to Jenin and nearby villages. The official reason given was an attempt to arrest the father and brother of the Tel Aviv terrorist, suspected of foreknowledge of his plan, and mapping their house ahead of demolition. In practice, the army knew that an irregular entry – especially in broad daylight – into an area where hundreds of armed Palestinian operatives reside, would end in violence.

An Islamic Jihad operative was killed in an exchange of gunfire; 13 additional Palestinians were wounded, among them, a 19-year-old woman who was severely wounded. The murderer’s father and brother were not at home and have not yet been arrested.

People morning at the funeral of Amir Khoury, the officer who died in the Shooting attack in Bnei Brak, in March.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

One may assume that more residents of Jenin and its environs will try to embark on terror attacks in Israel and the settlements in the near future. We are in the midst of a terror wave, and there is no reason to assume it will stop soon. Concurrently, the IDF will resume operations in Jenin and the adjacent refugee camp, where the Palestinian Authority has very limited control and where Israeli forces have also entered only sparingly in recent years.

These operations will draw increased resistance from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and possibly also local Fatah operatives (the lines dividing the armed personnel of the various factions is rather blurred, particularly in the refugee camp). Both sides will get a well-defined sandbox for the dust-up – which may well end in an extensive military operation in the city and the camp.

But these moves, as well as the broad defensive preparations by the IDF and the police, do not solve the basic problem of the current wave of terror, which remains one of intelligence. During the “lone-wolf” terror wave of 2015-2016, the Shin Bet encountered a similar problem, because most terrorists acted alone, or in small squads, and were unaffiliated with any terror organizations.

The wave was finally stemmed by two developments: Renewed security coordination with the Palestinian Authority (whose security organizations took action) and considerable improvement in the technological monitoring of social and other media, enabling the advance recognition of intent to take terrorist action.

This time it seems that the challenge is a bit more complex. The main difference in the current wave has to do with the amount of weaponry and terrorists’ access to it. Most attacks in the previous wave were vehicular and stabbing assaults. In the current wave, the Hadera terrorists arrived with a great deal of munitions, over a thousand rounds. All the other terrorists, except for the one in Be’er Sheva, were armed with standard firearms – handguns or M-16 rifles.

That is why the attacks are more lethal this time around. The rate of foiled attacks remains relatively high, 85-90 percent according to the security system, but with the number of attempts high as well, lethal attacks will occur from time to time. It also seems that the terrorists have learned the lessons of the previous rounds, and are more cautious not to leave indications of their plans. Some may be using communications apps considered more secure. Others have almost no “digital footprint.”

The background of the murderer who struck in Tel Aviv, Raad Hazem, is unusual compared to the previous attackers. He was known as a hacker, with a record of involvement in criminal online scams surrounding trade in crypto coins and defrauding clients in several countries. In the past he suffered a gunshot wound to the leg, in an incident in Jenin unrelated to Israel. His father was a senior officer, holding the rank of colonel in the Palestinian Authority’s national security apparatus.

Palestinians throw stones at a passing Israeli military vehicle during clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank, on Saturday. Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP

Inasmuch as is known, Hazem did not act on behalf of any organization, although his family is mostly affiliated with Fatah. It is evident that the attack was preplanned. The number of casualties is also relatively high, given that the murderer used a handgun and fired a relatively few bullets.

The last three attacks share another feature: They occurred in the evening, during TV newscasts (in Hadera and Bnei Brak they even overshadowed a diplomatic summit taking place concurrently.) This may be due to the terrorists’ preference for operating under the cover of the dark, but it may also indicate a desire on their part for maximum attention.

In this regard, Israeli media played right into the murderer’s hands on Thursday night. The TV broadcasts, particularly on Channel 12, reflected a dual loss of control: First, by security forces who failed to control the arena where the hunt for the terrorist was taking place (there was apparently difficulty in coordination between the police and the IDF special forces mobilized to Tel Aviv); and second, by the broadcast editors, who allowed too close a look at the security forces’ work.

The concern is not just about possible intelligence damage (the exposure of covert agents and methods of operation), but also about an almost intentional encouragement of public panic. It was in evidence in some of the previous broadcasts, but it seems that this time a line has been crossed.

Perhaps it would be best for the media to examine itself this time as well, rather than wax poetic about the public’s right to know. As a viewer, watching police and consumer affairs reporters in hot pursuit after the troops – some even stopping for an Instagram selfie – it was hard not to feel the absence of the late veteran journalist Roni Daniel.

The site of the shooting attack in Tel Aviv, on Thursday. Credit: Hadas Parush

No closure

In discussions with the political echelon over the weekend, the security establishment continued to voice reservations about imposing a general closure on the territories and preventing workers from entering Israel and worshipers from entering the Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan.

There is a fear that collective punishment – a step the Netanyahu government refrained from in the last wave under IDF advice – will backfire, drawing a larger swath of the population in the West Bank into violence. However, it is likely that a limited closure will be imposed next week, for Hol Hamoed of Pesach.

Concurrently, other steps are being considered and taken. On the advice of the Shin Bet, the Jalameh checkpoint, connecting Jenin with Israel, has been shut down. The intention is to apply targeted economic pressure on the city, a large part of whose economy depends on commerce with Israeli Arabs. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asked to look into more sweeping cancellations of work permits for the relatives of the perpetrators of the recent attacks. This too is collective punishment, but more targeted.

Some good news for Bennett

Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset, in 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigneberg

If the Prime Minister is in a difficult place in the Palestinian arena, and is near despair on the home political front, he could take a modicum of pleasure from events regarding Iran. Veteran Washington Post analyst, David Ignatius, reported on Saturday morning that U.S. President Joe Biden does not intend to remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the U.S. Treasury’s terror organization sanctions list. This issue is considered a stumbling block, hindering progress between Iran and the powers toward signing a new nuclear deal at the Vienna talks.

This report adds to a previous hint by American Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told ABC in an interview that the Revolutionary Guards is indeed a terrorist organization. The impending American decision was preceded by a joint declaration by Bennett and Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid, who in an unusual move warned the U.S. against such a decision. Over the last week Israel has deployed a persuasion blitz in Washington, carried out among others by Bennett’s diplomatic adviser, Shimrit Meir, and Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Mike Herzog.

It is hard to believe that the dispute over the Revolutionary Guard will permanently derail the signing of the nuclear deal, as Bennett may be hoping. But leaving the group on the sanctions list may hinder Iran’s business with the international community, even if a deal is reached.

The Guards control a major share of the Iranian economy, which is expected to receive a boost regardless, due to the sharp rise in oil prices following the war in Ukraine. If the Washington Post report proves to be correct, the government may be able to chalk this up as a certain success in blocking the Iranians – contrary to the claims of opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu that it has been derelict in dealing with the threat.

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