A Palestinian protester wearing a mask featuring the Palestinian flag, uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops in Bil'in.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic Jihad is gaining strength in Judea and Samaria, representing a new terrorist threat. Senior IDF officials from the Central Territorial Command consider Islamic Jihad to be a small yet highly focused entity, making it a dangerous and disturbing addition to the plethora of actors in the territories.
Islamic Jihad’s central base is in the Gaza Strip, and it has been a loyal Iranian proxy for many years, depending on Tehran for funds, training, and weapons.
Iran, for its part, has attempted to get money into the West Bank to spread its influence, so far with very limited success, due to Israeli security efforts and the Palestinian Authority’s resistance to Iranian sponsorship.
A second force that is emerging in the West Bank is the Fatah Tanzim, which was once a dominant terrorist group during the years of the second intifada. Youths from Fatah Tanzim are not bound by an agreement that older members came to with Israel in the previous decade, which saw Israel remove them from the wanted list in exchange for a cessation of terrorist activities.
Fatah Tanzim are not attacking Israel at present, but they could become a game-changing threat. The group’s younger members, who do not remember the second intifada and the high toll it took on Palestinian society, could in the future pose a threat to Israeli security, by launching attacks, such as firing on Israeli traffic in the West Bank, or infiltrating settlements and carrying out killing sprees. Such attacks do not require millions of shekels to prepare, or cross-border tunnels to carry out.
One possibility being considered by the IDF’s Central Command is that Fatah Tanzim could rebel against the Palestinian Authority in the future.
Meanwhile, Hamas in Gaza together with operatives from its headquarters in Turkey continue their efforts to try and orchestrate terrorism in the West Bank. These efforts are wide in scope, and getting wider with time.
Hamas is forging growing operational ties among West Bank Palestinians and seeking to construct new networks that can carry out attacks. Every night, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) successfully thwart these efforts, by gathering accurate intelligence and quickly converting it into arrest operations.
These efforts by security forces prevent deadly terrorism on a daily basis.
In Judea and Samaria, Hamas can take more than one form. In addition to cells set up remotely and controlled from Gaza, localized Hamas cells, made up mainly of local operatives continue to pose a threat. Such cells leave a lower intelligence signature, making them harder for Israeli intelligence to detect.
The IDF’s Central Command continues to prepare for the possibility of a security escalation.
Although the current situation on the ground is relatively stable, security officials assess that the diplomatic confrontation raging between Ramallah and Jerusalem could rapidly spill over into a wave of violence.
As a result, the Central Command has been practicing sending more conscripted battalions to the territorial brigades in the West Bank. It has also simulated the deployment of additional division headquarters to the territories.
The Central Command marked out the end of March as a period that requires increased preparations. The factors that can lead to escalation are many, and the coming months will reveal whether they outweigh the variables that might lead to stability.