Security and Defense: In and out, and in again

Since the beginning of the first intifada, Nablus has turned into one of the main sources of terror.

IDF nablus 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF nablus 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF's management of Operation Hot Winter, launched this week against Nablus-based terror infrastructure, is an indication of new military creativity and newfound understanding of the effect operations can have on diplomatic processes. Four battalions from the Nahal, Golani and Kfir brigades - poured into Nablus on Sunday in what has turned into one of the largest-scale operations in the West Bank since 2002's Operation Defensive Shield, which saw tanks and armored personnel carriers taking up positions at the entrance to Palestinian villages and cities. This week, the tanks were replaced by armored jeeps and bulldozers, which swept into Nablus's casbah, where soldiers confined tens of thousands of residents to their homes as they went door-to-door hunting for wanted terrorists and explosives laboratories. Since the beginning of the first intifada, Nablus has turned into one of the main sources of terror against Israel. Geographically, it is situated in a strategic location - in a valley and at a crossroads that leads in one direction to Jerusalem, in another to Tel Aviv and in another to Haifa. Nablus is also home to some of the top terror engineers in the West Bank, partially due to An-Najah University, where terrorists take the engineering and electronics classes that provide the background needed to assemble suicide belts. The city is also home to major financial institutions, including 11 banks and other large businesses. But the narrow and densely-populated casbah is home to the largest industry - terror. There, within the rundown homes and narrow alleyways, is where Islamic Jihad has set up its terror base, used to dispatch bombers throughout the country. By Thursday, only one Palestinian had been killed in what turned into a week-long operation, and IDF officers admitted that - considering past operations in the West Bank and the sometimes high number of casualties - this was unusual. THE LOW number of casualties was the result of an order Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan, commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, had issued instructing troops to demonstrate "extra restraint" while operating in Nablus this week. Golan's order was directly connected to the ongoing diplomatic process and an understanding that the wrong move in Nablus - resulting in a high number of casualties - would almost definitely have a disastrous effect on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's attempts to get peace talks with the Palestinians back on track. Golan has learned this the hard way. In January, he approved a midday operation in downtown Ramallah during which the wanted terror suspect escaped, three Palestinians were killed and some 30 others were wounded. The entire operation, including the violent clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen, was broadcast live on major news networks, and spoiled Olmert's summit later that day with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm e-Sheikh. Golan admitted to making a mistake, but that mistake set off a positive rethinking process in the IDF which bore fruit in Nablus this week. As a result of the botched Ramallah operation, Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided to establish a mechanism that would include the chief of General Staff and other high-ranking officers who would evaluate operations conducted during diplomatically sensitive times. The operation in Nablus was one of those "sensitive operations," and Golan and OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh thought long and hard before sending troops into the city. The calculation, however, was simple. While the IDF has largely succeeded in curbing terror and preventing infiltrations into Israel, the Islamic Jihad infrastructure in Nablus and the rest of northern Samaria was growing stronger and beginning to have successes. One example was the suicide bomber who was caught last week in an apartment in Bat Yam. In 2006, 117 out of the 190 suicide bombers captured in the entire West Bank were caught in Nablus. In addition, nine out of the 11 suicide belts uncovered in the last half of that year were found in the city. Terror was flourishing there, and after deciding that an operation was needed, Golan urged his brigade and battalion commanders to do all they could to restrain their soldiers and minimize Palestinian casualties. So far, it has paid off. At the helm of the operation is Col. Amir Baram, a creative and savvy officer who previously served as commander of the Paratrooper Brigade's Battalion 890 and is today commander of the Samaria Brigade. He believes in quiet and covert operations. While Israel's eyes are turned to the North, where Hizbullah is rebuilding and Syria is preparing for war, and the South, where Hamas continues to smuggle weapons into Gaza, the IDF is still combating terror in Nablus, a mere 45-minute drive from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.