Israel moves towards open war in the West Bank

The scenes that the West Bank has experienced in the last week have not been seen since the Second Intifada, almost two decades ago. Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian cities and targeted assassinations with drones are the possible prelude to an increasingly tangible threat: a massive military operation in the north of the territory, especially in the towns of Jenin and Nablus, where the focus of the Palestinian armed resistance is concentrated.

Although battered Gaza is accustomed to bombardments and the 2014 land invasion is still very recent, Israeli military operations in the West Bank have been limited in recent years to short-term incursions, focused on specific cities and without air means.

These supposedly surgical operations have not been less lethal for this. So far this year Some 130 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank..

However, these incursions have also been, at times, fatal for Israel, which usually encounters strong armed resistance in towns and refugee camps.

The number of soldiers killed or wounded, albeit small, has led to more and more voices in Israeli society and within the government calling for a change of strategy that includes more troops on the ground, air support and increased intensity against cities where armed groups are strongest. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not ruling out the idea.

Some 130 Palestinians have already been killed in the West Bank so far this year.

As a result of the lethal incursion of the Israeli army, last Monday, in the city of Jenin, in which six Palestinians died and almost a hundred were injured; Finance Minister and Deputy Defense Minister Bezalel Smotrich, of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, called for “replacing the [incursiones con] tweezers with a comprehensive operation to eradicate terrorist nests”.

“The time has come for send air forces and tanks to protect the lives of our fighters,” Smotrich said, referring to the eight Israeli soldiers wounded during the military action.

He was not the only one to make a similar request. Avigdor Liberman, leader of the right-wing Israel Beitenu, said the government “must launch a large-scale and extensive military operation.”

Danny Danon, a member of the Likud party – Netanyahu’s party – and a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called for “giving the army the green light to act and clean up terrorist nests.”

And Nissim Vaturi, also from Likud, went further and stated that the massive operation was already being considered: “We are preparing for an operation in Jenin. There are thoughts about it. Anywhere where there are terrorists, We’ll catch ’em and wipe ’em out“.

For his part, Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that “all options are open.” “We will continue to fight terrorism with all our might and we will defeat it,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu made these remarks hours after two Palestinians allegedly linked to Hamas carried out an attack near the settlement of Eli, in the occupied West Bank. Four settlers were killed in the attack and four others were injured. With them, there are already 24 Israelis killed by Palestinians in 2023.

The two Palestinians who carried out the attack, who acted in retaliation for the previous day’s raid on Jenin, they were shot down: the first by an Israeli civilian who was at the scene, and the second, at the hands of soldiers, who chased him to a town 70 kilometers from the site. The next day, Wednesday, the Army launched an unprecedented drone strike since 2006.

The Hamas spokesman called the attack a “murder crime” and stated that “it is a serious escalation”.

The device destroyed a car in which three Palestinians were traveling, who belonged to a terrorist cell, according to military sources. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called the attack a “crime of murder” and claimed that “the use of planes by the Zionist army” to assassinate Palestinians “It’s a serious escalation.”

Wednesday’s drone strike and the use of an Apache helicopter during the raid on Jenin mark a departure from military operations in the West Bank in recent years.

The Army had not used aerial means since the Second Intifada and even at that time they were never used routinely. Israeli Army sources have downplayed the use of these means and have emphasized that the policy of using them in the West Bank would continue, in specific cases.

Along the same lines, analyst Avi Melamed, a former member of Israeli intelligence and a former senior Arab affairs adviser to two Jerusalem mayors, explains to Public that the use of air resources will continue and that “the Army has no reason not to use them.”

Melamed believes, however, that the use of these means does not imply that the strategy regarding the West Bank will change. In fact, I very much doubt that a massive operation will take place, by land and air, in the West Bank. “There are very few possibilities. Beyond the political positions of some ministers, I don’t think it will end up happening,” she considers.

“The military does not support such a strategy and the situation in the West Bank is very fragile. Furthermore, Israel has bad experience in this,” says the expert. Melamed also predicts a collapse of the Palestinian National Authority if Israel opts for an invasion – “which is not in Israel’s interest”, he says – and explains that the strategy would create friction within from the Netanyahu government, as well as harsh international criticism, especially from the Biden Administration.”It is not the wisest thing to do,” he adds.

violence and chaos

While members of the government discuss a possible invasion, the reality on the ground in the West Bank is violent and chaotic. Following the attack on Tuesday, Jewish settler mobs have attacked dozens of Palestinian towns: from villages near Ramallah to the municipality of Huwara, which already suffered from settler attacks in February. Then a Palestinian died and more than a hundred were injured.

This week, more than fifty Arabs have been injured at the hands of rioters and at least one Palestinian has been killed.

This week, more than fifty Arabs have been injured at the hands of rioters and at least one Palestinian has been killed. Hundreds of cars and dozens of homes and businesses have been burned.

Although there were no detainees for days by the security forces, at least three settlers were reportedly arrested by the Shin Bet, the Israeli security services, according to Honenu, an organization that provides legal assistance to settlers.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu limited himself to asking settlers to “obey the law” and stated that Israel is a “state of law.” For its part, the Army condemned the “serious incidents” of violence, although Palestinian activists and media have assured that Israeli soldiers have done nothing to stop the attacks.

“The Israeli army is not doing anything to stop them,” said Adeeb Laffi, mayor of the Palestinian town of Turmusayya, where slain Palestinian Omar Quttain, a 27-year-old electrician and father of two, lived.

According to the mayor, at least 12 people were injured by the settlers and 50 vehicles and 15 houses were set on fire. After the altercations, the Israeli NGO B’Tselem has recalled that these “pogroms” in the West Bank “are not a mistake, but a characteristic”. “Such riots, on a smaller scale, they take place all the time, supported by the state”has added the organization.

“These events are not a single, isolated failure of the armed forces or of the State, but rather a clear expression of Israel’s policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As part of this policy, Israel arms settler gangs and allows and even encourages them to attack Palestinians.”

According to data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Palestine, so far in 2023 there have been more than 400 cases of settler violence against Palestinian Arabs.

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