A Palestinian from the Islamic group Hamas carries the holy book the Koran tucked into a belt of simulated explosives.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Security forces have quietly foiled a large number of Hamas mass-casualty terrorism plots forming in the West Bank recently, often at a very advanced stage of preparations, a senior IDF source disclosed on Wednesday.
The officer said the Judea and Samaria Division together with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) have encountered a continuous series of attempted attacks orchestrated by Hamas, which past security assessments indicated were targeting Israelis in both the West Bank and Israeli cities within the Green Line.
“We have seen, in recent months, many attempts by organizations to carry out terrorist attacks,” the officer said.
“In the past six months, of all the attacks that occurred, only one was orchestrated by Hamas,” he said, referring to the October gun attack by a Hamas cell that claimed the lives of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in the West Bank.
The remainder of the terrorism efforts were stopped before they could develop into action, the source said.
“Often we thwarted them at very advanced stages, involving bomb labs that we recently raided. What characterizes these cells is funding by organizations and a desire to carry out a ‘quality attack.’ We encounter M-16s and Kalashnikovs.
Many of the plots are aimed at shooting attacks.”
There have been more than 10 attempts to carry out kidnappings of Israelis since October, he stated.
In the past six months, the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division has dealt with unorganized lone attackers, many of them “inspired by friends and relatives from the same areas who carried out attacks, or a desire to avenge their deaths,” the source said.
The IDF and Shin Bet are getting better at stopping lonewolf attacks, he said, partly by mapping out attack hot spots and focusing countermeasures in those areas.
“At a certain stage, we saw where terrorist attacks were going. There are around six locations in the Judea and Samaria Division’s area of coverage that we pay attention to. The Division covers 126 settlements and more than 450 Palestinian villages.
We saw a pattern emerging in the attacks – 40 percent of attackers were drawn to these six locations. That is where we focused our efforts,” he explained.
Countermeasures include concentrating dozens of soldiers at each hot spot; increasing intelligence collection activities; erecting lookout towers; and improving tactical communications between units. Mobile control centers also appeared at the hot spots.
The officer warned, however, that Hamas could try to pull off a large-scale terrorist attack on Passover, or alternatively, a resurgence of Palestinian violence could occur due to tensions in Jerusalem revolving around the Temple Mount, which could reignite unorganized lone attacks or rioting in the West Bank. “We are entering the Passover holiday period, which is a challenging time, and could be an unstable time because we still see alerts for orchestrated attacks. The atmosphere [that encourages violence] does not end in one day and, hence, in my perspective the situation isn’t stable. We see efforts, and in some places we can thwart these. In some places, we see PA security forces assisting more [than in the past to stabilize the situation],” he said.
Tensions around the Temple Mount, he said, tend to characterize the spring and fall holidays.
“Our working assumption is that we will encounter this [again during Passover]. Additionally, the holiday creates more targets [in the West Bank], and more opportunities for attacks. There is good weather, there are more travelers, and more people outside. We will increase forces in Judea and Samaria by two extra battalions,” said the officer, who noted that some 20 battalions already secure Judea and Samaria.
For now, however, rock throwing and firebombing attacks have decreased in the West Bank, and many Palestinians are feeling a fatigue that prevents them from joining violent incidents, the source said.
“Most Palestinians were not part of rioting to begin with. We talk to village notables to prevent children from carrying out attacks. Most Palestinians don’t want to leave their comfort zone,” he said, noting that 60,000 work in Israel and tens of thousands more work in settlements and can move around freely.
The division has been using the current respite to increase counter- terrorism arrests, and try to solve a number of recent shooting attacks in the Binyamin region.
The officer said he expects Israelis traveling alone in the West Bank to nature spots to coordinate their movements with the army beforehand.