In the dark of night in the steep hills of the northern West Bank, units from the elite Nahal Reconnaissance Battalion moved in, entering a Palestinian village early on Wednesday to make another counter-terrorism arrest.
Operating under the command of the IDF’s Samaria Brigade, the units arrested a Hamas-affiliated suspect after receiving intelligence that he had been recruiting operatives to form a cell of terrorist gunmen.
The suspect was in possession of cash from an overseas source, allegedly for the purchase of arms.
“We have to continuously mow the lawn, and target terrorists that raise their heads,” a senior source highly familiar with this activity told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Other reasons for nighttime arrests include nabbing suspected rioters and visiting the homes of suspected future lone attackers, to warn them and their relatives against terrorism.
For a host of reasons, it appears that the ‘lawn’ in this part of the West Bank is growing more slowly than in the past, and the army finds itself having to make fewer arrests.
“On an average of one evening a week, we do not have to make arrests at all. That’s a tangible decrease from what we had to do a few months ago,” the source said.
There are also fewer clashes between Palestinians and Israelis from the settlements in this area, and confrontations between Palestinian youths and security forces have also decreased in scope considerably. A relative calm has descended on this corner of Samaria between Nablus and Tulkarm, where settlements like Shavei Shomron and Yitzhar are located. The officer warned, however, that violence could break out again.
“Once, we had hundreds of rioters every week in certain areas. Now, a few teenagers throw rocks on Friday and go home,” he said.
The situation was very different last year, when disturbances in places like Nablus were frequent and violent, and when the area saw a number of lone attackers attempt to kill soldiers. Today, the officer said, the violence has shifted south, to the greater Hebron region.
“We disrupt cells of gunmen on a regular basis,” he said.
“Before it strikes, a shooting cell prepares itself, and surveys the area, looking for escape routes. We have set up checkpoints, and place vehicles and soldiers along central routes and junctions, to make it clear to them that their escape routes are not viable,” he said.
“The cells try to attack in areas where there is less military. Based on a study of our area’s history, we found our vulnerable points, and beefed up our presence,” the source said.
“A cell does not wish to commit suicide. It wants to leave the area after an attack,” he said.
This is in stark contrast to lone wolf terrorists, who are often suicidal people with problematic family background, the officer said.
Last week, a barber from Nablus tried to stab soldiers at the Hawara checkpoint before being shot. The initial bullet wounds did not stop him, the source said, and the attacker got up to try to attack again, before being shot dead.
“We see not only see religious jihadist markers in the profiles of lone attackers. There are many other things, like mental distress. They want to die.
If they can do it through an attack, and ‘contribute to their people,’ they will try. Our forces are trained for this. We know the threat. We train often in Krav Maga [an Israeli self-defense technique]. If we can neutralize attackers without shooting them, all the better.
There has been a big improvement in how we deal with lone attackers,” the officer said.
With the current calm in place, security forces in the area focus on securing roads, and nightly counter-terrorism raids. But one challenge remains at the top of their priority: raids to track down weapons and gun-making workshops.
“We are waging a war on arms here, and shutting down workshops,” the source said.
Recent intelligence on the latest attacks show that terrorists are turning to locally produced firearms, since an M-16 costs NIS 60,000 in Nablus’s black market, and a micro-Tavor costs NIS 110,000.
“The high price is a good sign. It shows the IDF is working night and day to seize weapons,” the source said.
“We can’t rest. New weapons workshops are popping up all the time.”