The streets of Jenin were deserted on Tuesday, one day after the largest IDF operation in the West Bank city in 20 years – to the extent that there were streets left. Multiple streets were blown up or chopped, depending on whether they had been bulldozed or set off by the IDF’s bomb squads.
Only a few meters away, other streets appeared mostly untouched. This is because, according to IDF Chief Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari, the IDF only targeted roads that had explosives underneath, but was careful to leave roads that did not.
Though the first intense day had passed, the signs were still there of military action. The Jerusalem Post joined other military reporters on Tuesday to report and examine the city after such an intense operation. At one point, there was a sudden movement of IDF infantry and commando forces – out of nowhere – maneuvering down a street less than 100 meters away. The group of reporters was followed the entire time by a group of soldiers.
The new terror hub of the West Bank
Over the last year, Jenin replaced Hebron as the largest hub of terror in the West Bank. Hagari said that the IDF’s current tactic is not to hold on to every corner of Jenin, but rather to hold on to strategic spots around the outskirts and to periodically make pincer movements into certain areas and exiting quickly. This way, the IDF keeps its element of surprise.
A giant explosion that took place 200 meters away. Hagari said it was a controlled explosion by IDF forces of another of the remaining 14 targets in Jenin – likely either a command center or a large weapons storage area.
Once the echoes of the explosion went silent, the buzz of drones could be heard overhead. These drones, having engaged in around 20 airstrikes, completely changed the course of the battle of Jenin into a rout in the IDF’s favor and led to the hiding of militants.
By press time, the IDF said it has captured around half of them with little resistance with only around 20 gun battles over the two days, and 10 Palestinian deaths. This doesn’t even begin to compare to the numbers that followed Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
Incidentally, around a similar number of Palestinians were killed in mid-June when an IDF Panther vehicle was ambushed by an explosive device under one of the streets and IDF forces were taken by surprise into a battle where the Palestinians had the tactical advantage.
Driving over that same roadway where the ambush had taken place on the way to one of Jenin’s mosques atop a hill, a panoramic view of the city showed its red and gray roofs. The road was bumpy.
At one point, the vehicle came to an abrupt halt when one senior official had to leave to meet up separately with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was also arriving in the area around Jenin, if not entering as deep as the Post.
In the Palestinian Islamic Jihad-associated Al-Ansar Mosque, the door was blown off its hinges and laying on the side.
The mosque that the IDF found explosives and weapons in
This was how the IDF penetrated the mosque during the fighting. Israeli forces found there explosives and weapons, and it was the sight of a lengthy firefight on Monday. Other than that and a broken window, the mosque appeared relatively clean and orderly.
It was also empty of worshipers. But the most part of the building is the bottom floor. There, Hagari stood in front of a window which he flagged as the window from which terrorists used remote surveillance of the IDF’s Panther in last month.
Hagari added that this was the spot where the terrorists remotely detonated the explosive devices which ambushed the Panther.
Senior IDF officers highlighted some of the more positive aspects of the operation – other than its targeting success – with particular focus on Gaza’s lack of involvement. They suggested that part of this was because the IDF avoided killing innocent Palestinian civilians and focused on the Palestinian fighters.
They added that Gaza remained on the sidelines because the surprise to Hamas and PIJ fighters in Jenin was so great that there simply was no time to coordinate a rocket response before pictures and videos had already come out that their men in Jenin had cut and run.
There was no specified end date to the operation, but the feeling was that most of the targets were met. If the operation lasts more than another day, it could be more to show to Israel’s other enemies that it has the power to sit in Jenin as long as it wants, but the chances are higher the IDF will exit relatively soon so as not to cross its global critics and allies.
Then, the question will be: When will the IDF have to undertake another such operation? Or will Israel, at some point, figure out a diplomatic path out of the endless cycle of strikes and counterstrikes.
Being that officials were dismissive of the Palestinian Authority’s ability to control Jenin, the next operation may be sooner than we think.