Organized Palestinian terror is back to haunt Israeli civilians. In fact, 2023 has been the most lethal year in terms of terror and casualties since 2005, the last year of the Second Intifada. While in the intervening years, terror was essentially committed by individual Palestinians whether by knifing, or car ramming, the current terror unleashed by Palestinian terrorists is organized. It includes a central command of terrorists affiliated with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah. Most of the recent terror actions have taken place in Judea and Samaria. The Hamas leadership in Gaza is behind the organized campaign.
In recent weeks, the Jewish state has been challenged by a strategic turnaround in the way Palestinian terrorists are waging their deadly actions in Judea and Samaria. Although the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been able to deal seemingly well with the terrorist pockets in places such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarem, it is very clear that there has been an elevated threat to Israelis in terms of the frequency and quality of the terrorist attacks.
The change that is occurring in the new Palestinian terror campaign in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) is being expressed in its new sense of purpose, the use of weapons, organization, and fighting spirit, and it has generated an armed uprising. The barely functioning Palestinian Authority (PA) and the feebleness and corruption of its leader Mahmoud Abbas is one contributing factor in the rise of the organized terror campaign. The perceived weakness of Israel’s political leadership, and the turbulence within Israeli society as a result of the chaos caused by the months-old demonstrations by the Israeli left seeking to topple the right-leaning Netanyahu government, using the pretext of the Judicial Reforms, is yet another. The goal of the new Palestinian terror campaign is to force Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria in the same way Hezbollah in Lebanon unleashed terror, which allegedly forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. Hamas would have you believe that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip because of Hamas’ resistance.
With an abundance of arms smuggled into Judea and Samaria, including rifles, specialized sharpshooter rifles, explosives, and the facilities to produce explosives, it has enabled more effective terror attacks in wider areas of the West Bank. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has a vested interest to create terror in the as many fronts against Israel as possible. At the same time, Hamas, the Gaza based terror organization, already doing Tehran’s bidding, is seeking to take control over the West Bank.
The unified command that has brought together Hamas, PIJ, and Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades has provided a centralized command structure that enabled the above terror groups to plan, coordinate, and control activities by sharing headquarters. This has given the new terror campaign the opportunity to reinforce its fighters, and provide faster response in a firefight, something that the terror groups did not possess hitherto. The Palestinian terror campaign is getting its inspiration from the war in Ukraine and their own perceived successes. It is also seeking to take advantage of what they see happening within the IDF, namely, refusal of pilots to attend their reserve duty, as well as some land units’ protests.
Unlike the attack in Huwara, which was an unplanned opportunity to murder Israeli civilians that happened to be passing by, the terror attack (August 21, 2023) in south Hebron Hills, was a planned operation by a well-armed unit of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, targeting specifically Jewish residents of the area (Beit Hagai), and killing Batsheva Nigri, 40, a mother of three, and seriously wounding another Israeli man aged 39. The terrorist group, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, claimed that the shooting was in the name of the 54th anniversary of the alleged “burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969,” when a mentally ill Australian Christian, Denis Michael Rohan, tried to torch the Temple Mount revered mosque.
The Beit Hagai terrorist attack came just days after a Hamas terror unit sought to kidnap an IDF soldier. They were equipped with automatic weapons, while scouting the area of the Benjamin region, collecting information on the area soldiers routine, and even managed to secure a hiding place for the would be kidnapped soldier. Israel’s Security Services managed, however, to arrest the unit while in an advanced stage of planning.
What has become clear is that in addition to the copycat terror attacks committed by individuals, the old organized and sponsored attacks reminiscent of the Second Intifada may have been reemerging. The young generation of Palestinians influenced by social media, and a constant diet of murderous incitement coming from Hamas and the PA, is not deterred by the scars left by Operation Defense Shield. They are convinced that Israel is collapsing internally, which has raised their motivation to engage in terrorizing Israel and Israelis.
The PA, for its part, is broadcasting a dual message; on one hand, its security apparatus is keeping its security coordination with Israel and claims to be committed to prevent terrorist attacks. On the other hand, the PA is celebrating terrorist martyrs, naming schools and streets after them. In addition, it economically supports families of convicted terrorist killers, and at the same PA has never punished or prosecuted terrorists. These dualities feed this new terror wave. In recent years the PA has lost control over armed Palestinian terror groups. Therefore, for Israel to strengthen the PA won’t enable the PA to deal with the organized and coordinated terror groups, which have been strengthened by support from Iran and its proxies in Gaza.
As the growing threat from the Palestinian organized terror groups is being internalized by the Netanyahu government, the best Israel can do now is for the Israeli government to raise its deterrence by ordering another Defense Shield – like operation, that would permanently cripple Hamas, and end the inspiration and support it has given to the organized terrorist structure in Judea and Samaria.