IDF soldiers stand guard during a demonstration by Palestinians against the closure of the main road in Jabaa area south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF has significantly boosted operations to thwart West Bank shooting attacks in recent months, a senior officer said Thursday.
In a briefing about IDF activities in 2016 and the attacks that took place in the West Bank over the course of the year, a senior officer stated that, while there have been significantly fewer vehicular attacks as well as stabbings, shooting attacks at soldiers remain a main threat.
“Shootings are undoubtedly the main challenge in Judea and Samaria,” the officer stated, stressing that “we are working very hard to thwart them and we’re stepping up our efforts to shut down weapons factories.”
Security forces believe that most shooting attacks are carried out with weapons locally produced in the West Bank, most commonly knock-offs of the obsolete Karl Gustav submachine gun.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), IDF, and Israel Police have stepped up their efforts to uncover underground workshops that produce illegal weapons, carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank to shut them down and to confiscate. This has greatly reduced the number of explosive devices and other weapons that could end up in the hands of terrorists.
According to the officer, the IDF is “going to the root of the problem” by identifying and shutting down more than 40 gun-making workshops and confiscating over 445 illegal weapons, a significant increase from the 170 weapons seized in 2015.
As a result, the price of the popular Karl Gustav has tripled in the past year, from NIS 1,500 in January 2015 to NIS 4,500 in December 2016.
Lone wolf attacks or a new intifada?
According to the officer, “2016 was a very dynamic and at times explosive year,” with a total of 143 stabbings, 89 shootings, 39 vehicular attacks, and 9 attacks where explosive devices were used. A total of 58 attacks were directed at civilians and 181 attacks directed against IDF soldiers,” he said.
He noted that there are several zones in the West Bank which are at increased risk of shooting attacks and the IDF has expanded activities in several fields to prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks.
In addition to using drones to gather intelligence, security forces have installed some 1,500 cameras throughout the West Bank, especially in areas known for an increased risk of shooting attacks, which help forces track down attackers who manage to flee the scene of an attack. The IDF has also placed new outposts in those high-risk areas and more barriers at bus stops to thwart vehicular attacks.
The army has also changed its arrest procedure to capture Palestinians who hurl rocks at soldiers during riots, by photographing the main instigators in order to later locate and arrest them. He said this has led to an increase in arrests, with 3,369 Palestinians in the West Bank arrested during the past year, an increase from 3,132 arrests in 2015.
According to the senior officer, there has also been a marked increase in attacks carried out in accordance with Salafi-jihadi inspired ideology, referring to the Sarona Market shooting attack on June 8, 2016, when two Palestinian terrorists opened fire on Israeli civilians at a Tel Aviv food market, murdering four.
While these types of attackers remain a minority, according to the officer, at least 10 attacks last year were carried out by terrorists inspired by the Salafi-jihadi ideology. Thousands of attacks have been thwarted due to intelligence gathering, and while he would not go into depth, the officer stated that the IDF has increased its monitoring of social media activity, arresting individuals who express a desire to set out on attacks or attempt to inspire others to do so on social networks like Facebook.
One of the most effective, if controversial, methods the military has used to deter potential terrorists is the sealing of rooms and the demolition of the perpetrators’ houses. While some NGOs and human rights organizations criticize the army for using collective punishment by demolishing the homes of the terrorists’ families, according to the official, “it is very effective.”
“We always weigh the pros and cons of the consequences of our actions. But someone who carries out an attack must pay a heavy price,” he said.
Looking ahead, the officer cautiously discussed the recent change of administration in the White House, saying that, while he can’t see a connection between the Trump administration and the increase in recent attacks, he noted that “whatever happens in Jerusalem will always have an effect in the West Bank.”
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