The clear message behind the IDF’s large-scale operation in the West Bank is that Israel will not turn the other cheek in the face of wanton terrorism against its civilians.
A second message in the operation, which is seeing 10 army brigades launch hundreds of raids against Hamas members in multiple Palestinian cities, is that Hamas will end up regretting its decision to kidnap the Israeli youths, irrespective of the public rhetoric dished out by its leadership and spokespeople.
IDF officials have been saying that this campaign does not discriminate between armed Hamas members, the network of political- religious bodies that promote its goal of growing stronger in the West Bank, and its financial systems.
Through this approach, Israel is placing Hamas’s plans to take over the West Bank via the reconciliation with Fatah in real doubt, and setting back the organizations’ efforts to rebuild itself in the West Bank (after being largely demolished during the Second Intifada a decade ago).
These maneuvers carry two potential triggers for escalation, both of which the IDF is confident about handling.
The first is the possibility of Hamas targeting the expanded IDF presence in the West Bank, particularly in built-up areas, through live fire and bomb attacks. But IDF sources have expressed full confidence in the ability of field commanders to overcome such a challenge if it arises.
The second risk comes in the form of triggering an escalation on the Gazan front. Hamas and the other Palestinian terror factions in the Strip are armed with a total of 10,000 rockets. But such a development represents a far larger risk to Hamas than to Israel, as the Gazan regime would become vulnerable to unprecedented, enhanced air force firepower matched by detailed intelligence on its sensitive nerve centers and weapons storage sites.
Should the Gazan arena flare up, Hamas might find itself badly weakened not only in the West Bank, but also in its home turf of Gaza as well.