Israel Bulks Up Forces in West Bank, Fearing Hamas Retaliation for Al-Aqsa Clashes

The Israeli army is looking to ease tensions in East Jerusalem by changing the route of Monday's Jerusalem Day march, as well as limiting the number of participant

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, May 2021.
Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, May 2021.Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The Israeli army stepped up its presence in the West Bank with three combat battalions on Sunday, after days of tension in Jerusalem and ahead of Monday's celebration of Jerusalem Day.

The three battalions will join six other brigades and six combat brigades that were sent to the area following the shooting attack at the Tapuach Junction, where a 19-year-old Israeli was killed and two others injured.  

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On Sunday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi held an operational assessment session at the Salam Base of the Menashe Regional Brigade. Defense sources said that the killing of a Palestinian on the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif as Muslims call it, may bring an escalation of violence in the south.

They said the situation is tense and will remain so at least until the end of the week, even if there won't be an escalation. Many in the defense establishment and IDF said they had expected incidents in Jerusalem over the past week to cause a much more serious escalation.

The security forces believe that the army is in control of riots in Jerusalem as well as reactions from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, senior defense officials warned that an incident that ends in Palestinian killed on the Temple Mount could lead to a wider escalation in the area. The army, they say, must therefore act carefully, at least until the end of the week.

The situation in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah must be addressed responsibly because of its potential to create an explosive situation in the city. The Defense Ministry is even seeking to change the original program for Jerusalem Day celebrations in the Old City and East Jerusalem, in particular the March of Flags. A decision on the matter will only be made at 6 A.M. on Monday, hours before the march is set to begin.

In closed-door meetings with political leaders, defense officials proposed several options; changing the route of the march, limiting the number of participants, reducing the number allowed to ascend the Temple Mount and even delaying Jerusalem Day celebrations to a later date when the situation has calmed.

A Palestinian protester running near a burning barricade in Jerusalem's Old City last night. Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP

Meanwhile, an analysis by senior defense officials shows that Hamas is satisfied with what it has achieved until now, mainly because it has succeeded in creating a link between events in East Jerusalem and Gaza. Defense sources attributed Hamas’ restraint in Gaza to the organization’s understanding that any attempt at escalating the situation in a way that would lead to another round of fighting would only minimize its accomplishments to date vis a vis Israel.

Nevertheless, the IDF will remain on high alert in the coming days on the assumption that any event that ends in deaths or is interpreted as an assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque could cause Hamas to react more strongly in Gaza and/or the West Bank.

Hamas views its efforts to encourage thousands to join protests in Gaza and the West Bank as a failure. Calls by Hamas leaders for Gazans to gather along the border fence with Israel and confront Israeli troops drew few people.

Hamas has not rushed to launch rockets into Israel is due to an internal crisis. Based on assessments of social media traffic and the mood on the Palestinian street, most of the Palestinian public wants to end Ramadan like other Muslim countries, and Hamas is not interested in ruining the holiday.

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