Security and Defense: Keeping the flames in check

Concerns that violence in Jerusalem will expand to the West Bank appear more relevant than ever following the shooting of Jewish Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick.

Youth holds stone as Palestinians clash with IDF in the West Bank (photo credit: REUTERS)
Youth holds stone as Palestinians clash with IDF in the West Bank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ongoing and escalating violence in the capital has raised concerns that the flames of unrest could quickly spread from Jerusalem to Palestinian cities, towns and villages across the West Bank.
These concerns appear more relevant than ever following the shooting of Jewish Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, coming days after a horrific terror attack by an east Jerusalem man who ran down several people at a light rail station on Ammunition Hill, killing two, including a three-month-old baby girl.
The past days have not been free from deadly incidents in the West Bank, either. Last Friday, a Palestinian teenager in Silwad, near Ramallah, was shot dead by IDF soldiers who reported seeing him hurling firebombs at Israeli traffic on Route 60.
Earlier this month, a 13-year-old boy was killed by the IDF in Beit Likya, also near Ramallah, after soldiers were targeted with firebombs while leaving the town.
“These incidents could have ignited the area. But they didn’t,” an army source told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “It could be that if one more Palestinian is killed, we may look back on that as a trigger. Judea and Samaria is like a battery that charges very quickly.”
However, as of Wednesday, there were no signs on the ground that such a conflagration was imminent, he added.
Since the end of Operation Brother’s Keeper in June, launched by the IDF in response to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, the IDF has seen ups and downs in levels of violence.
It succeeded in stabilizing large-scale rioting, citing a high decrease in violent incidents, partly due to an increase in forces on the ground, and partly because of an understanding by the Palestinian Authority’s security bodies that the kidnapping was a different kind of incident that necessitated a firm Israeli response.
Then, in July, tensions exploded in Gaza, with Hamas firing heavy rocket barrages on southern communities, prompting Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge.
This had a direct knock-on effect on the West Bank, resulting in massive rioting, such as the disturbance in Kalandiya in July involving 10,000 Palestinians.
The IDF saw a direct link between intensive combat in Gaza and a rise in West Bank violence.
Yet, within a month and a half of the end of the Gaza conflict (on August 26), the IDF’s Central Command once again saw a decrease in all parameters of violence across the West Bank.
In fact, army sources note that levels of violence today are the same as those seen prior to the launch of Operation Brother’s Keeper in June.
WHEN COMPARED to how long it took for violence in the West Bank to die down after Operation Pillar of Defense – the air campaign launched against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza in 2012 – the data is clear.
It took three to four months for the IDF to return the West Bank to a level of calm seen prior to the 2012 conflict – more than double the time it took this year to put out the flames.
None of this means, of course, that Jerusalem doesn’t have big potential to set the West Bank alight.
“We understand the potential link,” one army source said. “But we don’t identify a trickling of unrest. We are very ready, and aware. There are the familiar flash points, like the Temple Mount. But at the moment, we are not seeing a change on the ground.”
Several factors appear to have colluded to enable the current relative calm.
First, it is in the Palestinian Authority’s own interest to prevent an escalation of violence in the West Bank.
Second, many Palestinians still remember the heavy costs of the second intifada (from 2000 to 2005) and with the economic situation in the West Bank relatively stable, a critical mass of Palestinians may be unwilling to jeopardize that stability and return to a time of closures and curfews.
Additionally, the IDF has been making night raids and arrests, acting with complete freedom of action in Area A, where despite full Palestinian security control, Israel maintains a tight intelligence grip and complete freedom of operation.
“All of this has the potential to change,” the source warned.
If there is one party that is keen to make such a change, it is Hamas.
Hamas is seeking to create a third intifada in the West Bank – thus far, with no success. While it enjoys widespread identification among West Bank Palestinians, few are seeking to actively join its ranks.
“People identify with Hamas; we see their flags. However, there is no practical recruitment. We prevent that from happening, and many do not wish to join. It’s easier to like a soccer team from the stands than play with it on the field,” the source said.
A second security source also noted that the PA’s activities in the West Bank, along with continuous arrests made by the army, are preventing Hamas from rearing its head as well as stopping large-scale instability.
He characterized most incidents in Jerusalem as being localized and involving minors hurling stones.
Rioting in Silwan or Shuafat involves only local residents, he said.
Hamas is heavily involved in the unrest around the Temple Mount, as is the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern branch, the source stated.
Hamas is making ongoing attempts to regroup in the West Bank, but the nightly arrests are preventing it from rebuilding its terrorist infrastructure, he said, adding, “They are trying to resurface, though. All the time.”