When officials talk about the “Lebanonization” of Jenin, they generally have in mind what occurred there on June 19 when the IDF entered the city on a routine mission to arrest terror suspects.
But that operation in what is known as the West Bank’s “terror capital” was anything but ordinary.
As the troops were leaving, a powerful roadside bomb exploded, injuring seven soldiers and damaging IDF armored vehicles. The troops also came under intense gunfire.
Following this incident, there were numerous calls for an extensive IDF operation in Jenin and the northern West Bank – an “Operation Defensive Shield 2” – to keep it from becoming like southern Lebanon and to prevent the “Lebanonization” of Jenin.
However, there is another Lebanon model that the IDF sought to prevent with the launch of its campaign on Monday: The scenario where the enemy is allowed to grow to alarming proportions before decisive military action is taken.
How to avoid the mistakes made with Lebanon
UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the prevention of any armed forces south of the Litani River, except for the Lebanese army and UNIFIL.
Neither of these commitments was ever upheld, and Hezbollah – funded and controlled by Iran – significantly increased its rocket arsenal from an estimated 15,000 on the eve of the Second Lebanon War to 130,000-150,000 mortars and rockets today.
Israel watched this buildup over the years but chose not to act. Why? Because it wanted to avoid another major conflict. While that goal is understandable, it allowed an enormous threat to grow inside Lebanon. The cost of eliminating that threat now will be much higher than if it had been addressed 10 years ago.
Undoubtedly, this Lebanon model influenced the decision-makers when considering a relatively large-scale operation in Jenin today. The events of June 19 provided a clear indication of where things were heading. Additional evidence came when a terrorist cell unsuccessfully attempted to launch rockets from Jenin into northern Israel a few days later.
The dilemma before the IDF then became clear: When do you act? Do you act now when the terrorist infrastructure has not yet reached the point where it poses a dramatic threat, or do you wait – as was done in Lebanon – until the enemy is armed to the teeth?
Monday’s operation showed the IDF opted for the former approach. In so doing, it went for what could be called the Syrian formula.
Why the IDF should use the Syrian formula
The Syrian formula refers to the constant action inside Syria that the IDF has initiated over the last decade to keep Iran from setting up a forward base from which it could attack Israel.
Those actions, surgical strikes on everything from arms depots to suspected missile sites to convoys transporting state-of-the-art weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah, have kept Iran from achieving its strategic goal inside Syria. Despite its best efforts, Iran has been unable to replicate in Syria the Hezbollah model it established in Lebanon.
ISRAEL LEARNED from the Hezbollah experience. It is better to take action against a threat when it is small and manageable rather than allowing it to metastasize into something frightening before taking action. And that is what the IDF is now doing in Jenin: taking action while the rocket-launching capabilities there are still primitive, while the roadside bomb-making capabilities there are still limited, and before Iran has succeeded – as it is trying – to transform Jenin into a strategic threat to Israel.
By acting now, the IDF hopes to avoid a more extensive battle in the city in the future. By acting now, it is also acknowledging that the tactics it has used in Operation Break the Wave launched after the uptick in terror in March 2022 have had only limited success.
The nightly raids and arrests inside the Palestinian cities, including inside Jenin, have not been able to reverse the terrorist trend, and almost as many people have been killed in terrorist attacks so far this year (28) as in all of 2002 (33). Something different was called for; some kind of operation was needed to go after the terror infrastructure that was – with assistance from Iran – developing and becoming much more of a threat.
Many jaws dropped last week when it emerged that the Mossad succeeded in apprehending and interrogating inside Iran itself the mastermind of a planned attack on Israelis in Cyprus. This illustrated the long reach of Israel and its ability to operate on Iranian soil.
Releasing part of the interrogation video was meant to signal to the Iranians that Israel could reach them in their own backyard. But two can play at that game, and what the Iranians have been trying to do in Jenin is set up a base of operations from which to operate against Israel in the heart of the country.
Islamic Jihad’s Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhaleh said in an interview Saturday with the Iranian Al-Wefaq newspaper that anti-Israeli actions in the West Bank reflect directives coming from Iran. Al-Nakhaleh visited Iran in mid-June.
“The arming of the West Bank, a directive issued by Iran’s Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, significantly impacted the region,” he said. “Efforts were made to implement this directive, including weapon smuggling and purchasing from Israelis. The aim was to bring about a qualitative shift in the Palestinian situation and enhance resistance actions in the West Bank.”
He said Khamenei reiterated to him during his recent visit to Iran “the importance of developing the West Bank’s armament and resistance activities. This process requires the Palestinians’ efforts and support from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Al-Nakhaleh continued: “In terms of practical support, it is important to clarify that the aid provided by the Islamic Republic to the Palestinian people is significant. The assistance includes security and military help, training, economic support, and humanitarian aid for the families of martyrs and prisoners. While the Islamic Republic has contributed to creating a resistance infrastructure in Palestine, the extent of economic assistance should not be overstated.”
It is precisely that “resistance infrastructure” that the IDF, as it has done successfully in Syria over the last decade, is now targeting in Jenin while it is still in its early stage – and well before it reaches fearsome proportions like those in Lebanon.