The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) lost two soldiers to Palestinian violence in the West Bank last week.
Although a third intifada remains unlikely according to intelligence assessments, the threat of terrorism in the West Bank remains ever-present, and the army has beefed up its forces to prevent an escalation of incidents.
Staff Sgt. Tomer Hazan, 20, served in the Israeli Air Force, while also working at a restaurant in Bat Yam, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. One of his work colleagues was a 42-year-old Palestinian named Nedal Amar, who entered Israel illegally to work in the same restaurant, and who lived in the Qalqilya region of the West Bank.
Amar’s brother, a member of the Tanzim paramilitary terror group, is in an Israeli prison for his role in facilitating a 2003 suicide bomb attack.
According to Israeli security forces, Amar decided to try and secure his brother’s freedom by killing an Israeli soldier, and offering to trade the body for the release of his brother.
Acting on the plan, he invited his young colleague to join him at his home in Bet Amin, near Qalqilya, and the two shared a taxi to the area.
After walking out to an open, uninhabited area, Amar murdered the soldier and dumped the body in a well. His plan to ransom Israel into releasing the brother was short-lived; the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), the domestic intelligence body, tracked him down within hours, arresting the suspect and additional relatives at their home.
Amar confessed, and led the IDF to the location of the body.
Two days later in Hebron, Israeli soldiers guarding the city’s Jewish Quarter came under fire from a Palestinian sniper. Staff-Sgt. Maj. Gavriel Kobi, age 20, from northern Israel, was shot in the neck and killed.
He had been stationed in Hebron as part of the military’s increased presence for the Jewish holidays.
Thousands of mourners accompanied Kobi to his final resting place at the Haifa military cemetery. The sniper who murdered Kobi remains at large, and security forces have launched a manhunt for him.
These incidents have caused segments of Israeli society to wonder if a third Palestinian intifada is imminent. Defense chiefs took to the media to allay those concerns, saying that the two murders are not directly connected, and that security assessments do not point to an upsurge of violence any time soon.
Nevertheless, the IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz noted recently that reality does not always conform to intelligence forecasts, and the IDF needs to take every measure it can in preparing for a possible surge in violence.
This means continuing nightly security raids across Palestinian cities, towns, and villages in which infantry forces arrest wanted terrorism suspects and, acting on high quality intelligence, break up cells being formed for future attacks.
According to senior army sources, there have been more than 30 attempts by Palestinian terrorists to kidnap Israeli soldiers this year alone.
Several terror cells that were about to carry out bombings, shootings, and rocket attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets have been broken up by the Israel Security Agency. These include a Hamas terror cell plotting to bomb a packed outdoor Jerusalem mall during the Jewish New Year.
“These terror attacks remind us that even when things seem quiet on the surface, the IDF and its commanders are always dealing with a reality of operational tension,” Chief of Staff Gantz said.
The IDF believes it can keep a lid on the violence due its strong presence on the ground in the West Bank, and Israel’s tight intelligence grip of the sector.
Israel’s firm control of the Jordan Valley, the security fence, and a level of consistent cooperation with Palestinian Authority security forces have all acted as stabilizing factors that prevent a significant deterioration.
But the risk of violence spiraling out of control remains. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and lone-wolf terrorists all have the potential to set in motion a series of attacks.
In Gaza, where Hamas keeps the ceasefire with Israel, the Islamist regime is agitating for an intifada in the West Bank, and has openly stated its desire to see a wave of violence sweep the area.
“We are facing a political failure for the Palestinian Authority and the beginning of a new popular intifada against Israel,” Hamas’s deputy politburo chief, Mousa Abu Marzook, wrote on his Facebook page.
“John Kerry’s $4 million economic plan [for the Palestinian Authority] will not save the day,” he added.
Hamas’s calls for an upsurge in violence are aimed at harming both Israel and the rival Fatah organization which rules the West Bank.
Fatah, for its part, continues to speak the language of extremism to Palestinians.
“My homeland taught me that it is the blood of martyrs that draws the borders of the homeland,” an official Fatah Facebook post told readers in late August. More recently, at the end of September, Palestinian Authority television featured a young woman reciting a poem.
“When I was young, I was taught that… our wars were for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that our enemy is Satan, Zion with a tail,” she said.
In July, PA TV broadcast two young girls reading out poetry, one of whom said that Jews “murdered Allah’s pious prophets,” adding: “You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship. Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations. Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs.”
Should the smoldering embers in the West Bank turn into a fire of terrorism and rioting once again, triggering Israeli responses, this could have a knock on effect in other tense arenas, like Gaza.
It is this scenario, of sudden deterioration in multiple arenas in a short period of time, that the IDF is preparing itself for during these highly turbulent times.
Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.