IDF and Magen David Adom at the sceneof the terror shooting in the Barkan industrial Zone.
(photo credit: HALLEL MEIR/TPS)
After months of relative calm, two deadly shooting attacks in less than one week.
That’s the current situation in the southern West Bank, and it is feared that this might only be the beginning of another wave of deadly attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
While there was an overall drop in attacks in the West Bank in the first six months of 2018, according to the Shin Bet General Security Service, October saw a significant rise in attacks. That rise has led to the deaths of 11 Israelis and the wounding of another 76 in the West Bank this year.
The question has to be asked: Why have Israel’s fabled security services not been able to foil these deadly attacks?
On Sunday night Palestinians driving a white car opened fire on a group of Israelis at a bus stop outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra, injuring seven, including a pregnant 21-year-old woman who gave birth in an emergency cesarean section. The baby died four days later.
It was the most serious attack in the West Bank since the deadly Barkan attack in October in which a terrorist killed two Israeli civilians.
Until today when two IDF soldiers were killed and another in critical condition and moderately injured a civilian near the Givat Asaf settlement on the West Bank’s Route 60 highway, a mere two kilometers from where Sunday’s attack took place.
On Wednesday night Israeli security forces shot dead a suspect and arrested a number of accomplices. But the military isn’t sure the entire cell has been caught and it is exploring whether Thursday’s attack might be connected.
“We got one of the terrorists from the Ofra attack, but we are still working because we have to be sure we have the whole cell, so we are still in pursuit. It could be that this is it, but it may be that there are still others on the run,” a senior IDF officer told reporters before Thursday’s attack.
In November Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that security forces has thwarted 480 terrorist attacks in the West Bank, including 219 attacks planned by Hamas cells and 590 planned by so-called “lone wolves” working on their own.
According to one senior IDF officer, the military works every night with the Shin Bet and special forces “to deal with the challenge of terrorism,” arresting more than 2,700 Palestinians this year alone.
“THE LARGE part of the population in the West Bank is very violent and wants to carry out attacks. Only this year we succeeded in thwarting hundreds of terrorist attacks and we have arrested more than 2,700 people, but every month between four to eight attacks are successful,” he said, adding that “there is constant evaluation of the situation.”
Attacks by lone wolves, the IDF has admitted, are much more challenging to thwart than those planned by groups. But with some attacks having a similar modus operandi, how likely is it they are actually organized by individuals acting alone?
Speaking on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, Dr. Barak Ben-Zur, an expert in strategic intelligence and counter-terrorism and former head of the Shin Bet security agency’s Intelligence and Research Division, said Hamas is trying to open up a new front in the West Bank.
“If we are looking at the recent incidents in the West Bank, it was in the same area and because we saw that those were squads that used the same modus-operandi, we can assume that it’s a new wave,” he said. “It’s maybe the same infrastructure. And we can take in consideration that those who initiated those terror attacks are approximately the same guys that tried some two months ago to open a new wave of attacks – meaning Hamas.”
According to Ben-Zur, the attacks are not carried out lone-wolf attackers, but are “a part of the new initiative of this organization [Hamas] that decided to open a new front in the West Bank. After a period of time they got to the conclusion that they will ease down their efforts from the Gaza Strip.”
Israel has foiled large-scale Hamas attacks in the past. So it is possible that Hamas has learned the IDF’s weak spot and decided it is more practical to carry out attacks by small cells instead of large-scale bombings by large networks of operatives.
Hamas’s military wing, Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, released a statement praising Thursday’s attack and warning of more attacks to come.
“The enemy must not dream of security, security and stability... the West Bank will burn the occupiers and harass them in ways that the enemy does not expect,” the statement said, adding, “All attempts to destroy our resistance and take our weapons in the West Bank will fail.”
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