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Israel on high alert following arrest of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander

What’s happened: For a second day running civilian roads and other sites close to the Gaza Strip border remain closed as a precautionary move against a potential attack.

  • IDF forces are on high alert in the south due to the concern of a revenge attack following the arrest of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative.
  • On Monday night Bassem Saadi, a 61-year-old senior PIJ official, was arrested by Israeli security forces in the Jenin area, in the northern West Bank . During the arrest another man was killed (later identified as another PIJ operative) and two more were shot. The troops also seized cash and weapons, including a pistol, several magazines and M-16 bullets.
  • According to the IDF, “Upon the troops entry into Jenin, they came under live fire from several terrorists who shot at the troops, and they responded with live gunfire. A number of armed terrorists were seen to have been hit. The undercover Border Police troops continued their operational activity and arrested two suspects, who were turned over for questioning to the Shin Bet Security Service.”
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz warned yesterday that any threat on Israeli civilians will be met with a “forceful response”.
  • Gantz added: “Our policy is clear: whoever wants to work and live alongside us will, we extend a hand. With the second hand, we will smite whoever seeks to harm Israeli civilians and cause terror.”

Who is Bassem Saadi? He is one of PIJ’s most prominent leaders and is considered to be head of the organisation in the West Bank.

  • He has twice served time in Israeli prisons for his involvement in terrorism.
  • According to the Shin Bet security service, “He has acted recently with redoubled efforts to rebuild the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s operations, in the context of which he was behind the significant build-up of the organisation’s military capabilities in Samaria [northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular, and his presence played a meaningful role in radicalising the organisation’s activists on the ground.”
  • In addition, Israeli troops also arrested Ashraf Zidan al-Jadaa, who served as Saadi’s senior aide.

Context: The Israeli security services have been carrying out counter-terror operations as part of Operation Breakwater in the West Bank almost every night for the last few months.

  • The operation was launched earlier this year following seven lethal terror attacks in Israel in March and April that resulting in 19 people killed.
  • Last month the Shin Bet revealed they had prevented 172 substantial terrorist attacks in the last year.
  • A major focus of the operation has been in the Jenin area, which is considered the main hub of PIJ activity.
  • More than any other Palestinian terror organisation, the PIJ has the strongest connection to Iran and receives funding, training and logistical support. There have also been numerous attempts to smuggle weapons across the Jordanian border into the West Bank.
  • Israel maintains healthy dialogue with Egyptian intelligence that serves as a conduit to pass on messages to both Hamas and PIJ in the Gaza Strip, mainly to warn them of the consequences of any attack.
  • To alleviate some of the pressure, Israel deliberately released photographs of Saadi in custody to show him alive and uninjured, and to dispel rumours he is being mistreated.
  • The decision to shut down areas close to the border is not only in response to threatening statements, but also understood to be based on solid intelligence as to PIJ’s intentions to respond.

Looking ahead: The heightened state of alert in the south is expected to remain in place for the next several days, which could include restricted access for Israeli civilians.

  • Israeli intelligence is anticipating the possibility of sniper or anti-tank rocket fire out of the Gaza Strip.
  • There is also preparation for the possibility that the PIJ will launch mortars or rockets. The Iron Dome missile defence system has also been placed on a heightened state of alert in the area.

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