Jenin operation: What is meant to happen next? - analysis

What happens the day after the troops leave Jenin? This question can be divided into two parts: operational and strategic. 

 Israeli forces are seen operating in Jenin on July 4, 2023 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Israeli forces are seen operating in Jenin on July 4, 2023

One recipe for a successful military operation is to clearly define goals beforehand, accomplish them, and then end the operation before expanding those goals and risking getting bogged down.

As of Tuesday evening, Operation Home and Garden – based on these criteria – can be considered successful.

The stated goal was to target the terrorist infrastructure in Jenin and degrade the terrorists’ capabilities.

The IDF successfully knocked out terrorist command centers, uncovered weapons labs and arms stockpiles, killed nearly a dozen terrorists, and apprehended 10 times that number. It also signaled that it was ready to end the operation swiftly.

The success of the campaign

The campaign seemed successful at an operational and tactical level: well planned and effectively executed, with no IDF fatalities as of Tuesday evening and minimal harm to non-combatants.

 IDF soldiers take up a defensive position in the Jenin refugee camp on July 4, 2023 during a large-scale IDF operation in the area.  (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
IDF soldiers take up a defensive position in the Jenin refugee camp on July 4, 2023 during a large-scale IDF operation in the area. (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

Prevention needs to be the next goal

But what comes next? What happens the day after the troops leave Jenin? This question can be divided into two parts: operational and strategic.

Operationally, once the IDF leaves Jenin, it must prevent the terrorists from rebuilding the infrastructure there and posing a threat to the country. It must prevent them from building workshops for producing roadside bombs and labs for manufacturing primitive rockets.

 The IDF also needs to prevent the Jenin refugee camp from again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists carrying out attacks on the roads in Judea and Samaria.

The relatively small number of terrorists killed or apprehended in this operation – the IDF has identified an additional 350 armed terrorist gunmen in the city beyond the 120 arrested – indicates that they evaded the IDF soldiers. They hid but did not vanish, and once the IDF leaves they are likely to be even more motivated to carry out attacks.

To prevent the terrorists from launching attacks or rebuilding the terrorist infrastructure, the IDF will need to go back into Jenin again and again. This cannot be a one-time operation because its effectiveness would rapidly diminish.

In a perfect world, or at least in a world run according to agreements reached under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority security apparatus would be doing this job. But because the PA security apparatus is not fulfilling its responsibilities,  the IDF has to operate in its place. This means the IDF will need to go into Jenin more frequently to keep the terrorists from having freedom of movement and action.

After the IDF withdraws from Jenin, the security forces must brace for retaliatory attacks of the kind carried out by a lone terrorist in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon.

Additionally, they must be prepared for Jewish revenge attacks in response to these terror attacks. Such actions, like the rampages by Jewish extremists in Palestinian towns following the murders outside of Eli two weeks ago and in Huwara earlier this year, are not only morally reprehensible and wrong but also sap international legitimacy for the types of military actions taken by Israel in Jenin, and which may become more frequent.

As Israel takes actions to prevent the buildup of terrorist networks in the West Bank, encouraged and supported by Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, it must also be ready to strike at targets in Gaza and Lebanon if terrorist organizations there launch rockets toward Israel in a show of solidarity with Jenin. That the recent fighting did not spread to other fronts this time does not guarantee the same outcome if similar actions are taken in the future.

Israel needs to define strategic goals

All that is on the tactical and operational level.

On a strategic level, Israel needs to define its goals. While the IDF spokesman clarified Operation Home and Garden’s goals over the last few days, emphasizing that the aim was to target the terrorist infrastructure without occupying and remaining in Jenin, a similar diplomatic goal was not articulated.

The IDF wants to degrade the terrorist organization’s capabilities in Jenin, but what happens afterward? What is Israel’s vision for Jenin? Does it want the Palestinian Authority to regain control of the city? If so, what political, diplomatic, or financial incentives is it willing to give the Palestinian Authority to motivate it to reassert its control?

In addition, Israel must determine how far it is willing to go and what actions it is prepared to take to weaken Hamas, which is the Palestinian Authority’s main rival.

During a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that while Israel wants to eliminate the Palestinian aspiration for statehood, it “needs” the Palestinian Authority and cannot “allow it to collapse.”

“We are prepared to help it financially. We have an interest in the Palestinian Authority continuing to work,” he said.Following the Jenin operation, Netanyahu must define what exactly that means and outline the steps he is willing to take to strengthen the PA so it will have incentives to regain security control in areas like Jenin.

When Naftali Bennett was prime minister in 2021, he spoke of “shrinking the conflict” with the Palestinians. This meant increasing Palestinian sovereignty through building a network of roadblock-free roads controlled by the Palestinians, expanding Palestinian housing and infrastructure, implementing measures to boost the Palestinian economy, and decreasing Israel’s footprint in Palestinian-controlled areas.

Although this fell far short of the Palestinian aspiration for statehood, it was something.

So far, the Netanyahu government has not held out any diplomatic horizon for the Palestinians, and instead has approved thousands of new housing units in the settlements and green-lighted an expedited planning process for more.

This reflects internal divisions within the government. While Netanyahu speaks of not wanting to bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or annexing the West Bank, other voices – such as those of Bezalel Smotrich – advocate the opposite.

Following the events in Jenin, Netanyahu needs to decide what the government wants. If the aim is to collaborate with the Palestinian Authority, actions should be taken to strengthen it and weaken its enemies. But if the goal is to undermine the Palestinian Authority, Israel should begin preparing to fill the void created when the PA collapses. This week’s actions in Jenin offer a glimpse of what may await throughout Judea and Samaria if this is the chosen course.