Violence has surged in the West Bank in recent days, with the Palestinian Health Ministry reporting that Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teenager near Jenin on Tuesday, one day after an Israeli woman was shot dead from a passing vehicle while traveling in a car near Hebron with her daughter and a man.
Batsheva Nigri was killed and the man was seriously wounded, the army and medics said. Nigri’s daughter was uninjured. Two Palestinian residents of Hebron suspected of taking part in the shooting were arrested on Tuesday.
The attack in Hebron came two days after an Israeli father and son were shot dead at a car wash in the West Bank town of Huwara.
The West Bank has seen a sharp increase in violence this year, with a string of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, repeated deadly raids by the Israeli army, and violence by settlers against Palestinian communities.
Adel Shadeed, a Palestinian political analyst based in the West Bank, told The Media Line that the escalation in the West Bank gives “clear indications that this Israeli government is moving from one failure to another while it is living in a state of confusion and chaos with regard to its field policy in the occupied West Bank, and this reflects negatively on the Israeli internal reality.”
The current Israeli government was elected to deal “decisively and forcefully with the Palestinians and to eliminate manifestations of resistance,” Shadeed said.
Hamas are taking advantage of the Palestinian Authority's apparent weakness
Yoni Ben-Menachem, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line that Hamas is taking advantage of the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and trying to destabilize it.
“The reason for the escalation is the large presence of weapons in the West Bank, and there is also an abundance of money, which comes from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” Ben-Menachem said.
He says that weapons smuggling has spiked lately, with the weapons arriving “through the Jordanian border with the West Bank. Many smuggling operations from Jordan and neighboring countries are thwarted regularly.”
Following the shooting on Monday, both Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran.
“It is important to understand the significant change that is taking place on the ground. It is related to Iranian funding, and to the proliferation of weapons under the Iranian directive. Iran seeks every means to harm the citizens of Israel,” Gallant said in a statement.
Speaking at the scene of the Hebron attack, Netanyahu said, “We are in the middle of a terrorist onslaught that is encouraged, guided, and funded by Iran and its proxies.”
Gallant left for the US on Wednesday for a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan.
The Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that Gallant would hold a security briefing for the ambassadors of the UN Security Council member states and would also visit the Defense Ministry’s procurement delegation in New York.
Gallant has been criticized by some ministers in the coalition government over his handling of the increased violence in the West Bank.
Prof. Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told The Media Line that Gallant’s visit had nothing to do with the recent escalation, saying there were regular meetings between Israeli and American defense officials.
“We are independent, and if we see a target to attack, we’ll do it immediately without going back to the US,” he said. “No green light for such actions is needed.”
Inbar said he did not see a military confrontation ahead between Israel and the Palestinians.
“They [Netanyahu and Gallant] are very cautious, both of them. They both listen to what the military establishment says. [And] Hamas is not really interested in confrontation, although there’s always room for miscalculation,” he said.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and former national security adviser, told The Media Line that Iran is flooding the West Bank with money and weapons.
“The increase in attacks is due to Iran’s frustration and failure to find answers to Israeli targeting of Shi’ite militias in Syria, and they understand that the achievements of Hizbullah in the north are very limited,” Amidror said.
According to Dr. Amjad Abul El Ezz, head of the Social Sciences Department in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the Arab American University in Ramallah, Israel’s blaming of Iran is a political move.
“The talk about Iran by Netanyahu is aimed at uniting the home front and distracting the people with an external operation against Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas,” he said.
However, Abul El Ezz said there was a connection to Iran, with the tension in the West Bank an extension of what was happening regionally.
“There is no doubt that there are regional parties such as Iran that have relations with the Palestinian factions, and if Israel is moving in regional arenas against Iran, I think that Iran has policies in the West Bank and can harm the Israeli army,” he said. “But the strongest motivator behind these operations remains the resistance to the [Israeli] occupation.”
Shadeed says Netanyahu’s statements on Iran were “pathetic” and he was hiding behind this “lame” excuse.
“Accusing Iran indicates Netanyahu’s political bankruptcy. Simply accusing Iran of this is absurd,” he said. “There is nothing that Israel can do as long as it does not recognize that it is an occupying power, and the more the occupation increases its brutality against defenseless citizens, the greater their desire to resist the occupation.”
Several far-right ministers inside Netanyahu’s government coalition, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party, have called the current defense policy “too lenient.” Ben-Gvir blamed Gallant for Monday’s attack and urged him to reimpose widespread military roadblocks throughout the West Bank.
Meanwhile, at the conclusion of the Israeli security cabinet meeting on Tuesday, a statement by the prime minister’s office approved a “series of decisions to strike at the terrorists and whoever dispatches them and authorized the prime minister and the defense minister to act accordingly.”
Abul El Ezz told The Media Line that there were three reasons behind the recent escalation, which were coming together for the first time.
“The Palestinian people in general feel despair and there is a state of frustration as a result of the blockage of the political horizon,” he said.
“There is [also] a new generation of the Palestinian people that has not tasted peace. I am talking about the Oslo generation, that has seen nothing but arrests, assassinations, and house demolitions. Add to that very high unemployment.
“Israeli government policy is what leads to this escalation. This government is dangerous for the Palestinians and the Israelis alike. This is a government of settlers and a government of escalation.”
Abul El Ezz also said that the Israeli side is dominated by a group of extremists who control all aspects of the government and are pushing the situation to the extreme.
“I believe that Israel is preparing for a large military operation through which it will collect weapons and arrest wanted persons,” he said. “The so-called local entry in the middle of the night, rapid operations, and rapid withdrawal are no longer useful and effective for the Israelis, in light of the increase in operations.”
According to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, at least 50 Palestinians have been arrested, most of them former prisoners who have already spent time in Israeli jails.
“This campaign of arrests is considered one of the largest since the beginning of the year,” the club said in a statement, adding that the detentions were accompanied by “systematic abuse, severe beatings of detainees and their families, threats, and vandalism.”
The Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised Monday’s attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called Nigri’s killing a “heroic act” and a “normal response” to the persistent expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are generally considered illegal under international law. Not including the Israeli residents of annexed East Jerusalem, around 490,000 Israelis live in settlements, alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians.
Amidror said that Israel could return to the policy of assassination of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, something that Ben-Gvir is calling for.
“We should consider all possibilities, whether a wide military operation in the West Bank, or targeting Hamas or other figures from different Palestinian factions, or going as far as to conduct a quick yet effective surgical operation regionally. The long hand of Hamas in Lebanon, Saleh al-Arouri, could be a legitimate target,” Amidror said.
According to Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip, Egyptian contacts with factions there failed to extract a prolonged truce and a promise that Israel will not target Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in exchange for stopping their actions in the West Bank.
A top Hamas leader in Gaza told The Media Line that targeting any of the factions’ leaders “will be met with an unprecedented response from all fronts.”
The factions take the Israeli threats seriously and are preparing for Israeli attacks in Lebanon and in other locations.
“We will respond without thinking about the price we will pay,” the source said.
Shadeed said that Hebron’s entry into the escalation was very dangerous, and if it continued, it would be a landmark event that would have repercussions for everyone.
“Yes, the factions take threats seriously,” he said.
Shadeed said there had been a decline in Israel’s military and security prestige, forcing it to embark on a military strike to restore its deterrent value.
“The Israeli street can now absorb a strike and a military campaign, based on the escalation taking place in the West Bank, but in a limited and rapid manner,” he said.
However, he said there was little chance of a full-fledged military confrontation with Hizbullah, “unless there is a regional and international green light, and this is now unlikely.”
“Any military operation will not bring about long-term calm,” he said.
The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Tor Wennesland, told the UN Security Council on Monday that this year’s violence has claimed the highest recorded number of lives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2005, with more than 210 Palestinians and nearly 35 Israelis killed so far this year.
“Palestinians and Israelis are killed and injured in near-daily violence, including just hours before this briefing, when another fatal shooting attack killed an Israeli in the West Bank,” Wennesland told the Security Council from Jerusalem.
“The lack of progress towards a political horizon that addressed the core issues driving the conflict has left a dangerous and volatile vacuum, filled by extremists on all sides,” he said.