Tension in the West Bank following counter-terrorism operation


What happened: Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has harshly criticised Israel for a counter-terrorism operation inside Nablus that killed three suspected terrorists on Tuesday.

  • Yesterday his deputy, Mahmoud al-Aloul visited the family of those killed in the mourning tent and played a recording of Abbas saying: “We have no choice but to respond twice as hard to the exploitative Zionist occupier, for we have been attacked and did not commit the attack … this was premeditated murder perpetrated by the vile Zionist occupier against our sons, our youth, our people.”
  • Abbas added: “We will get back at them twice as hard.”

Context – the Nablus operation: In a rare midday incident, an Israeli special forces anti-terror unit entered Nablus and killed three armed gunmen in their car.

  • The three men were identified as members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Abbas’s Fatah movement.
  • This cell was responsible for six recent shooting attacks targeting settlements and IDF military vehicles in the West Bank, but none was injured as a result.
  • Intelligence identified them armed and mobile and on their way to carry out another attack, and characterised the cell as a “ticking bomb” that necessitated an immediate response.
  • According to Yediot Ahronot: “The three dead terrorists had known that they were being tracked. They had been living for some time as hunted fugitives, switching their hiding places to avoid capture. The last shooting attack they carried out was exactly a week ago, when there was a report of a shooting from a drive-by car at an army position at one of the entry points to Nablus.”
  • The current rise in security tension is a result of several contributing factors including the difficult economic situation in the West Bank, and Hamas’s efforts to ignite a conflict against Israel and the PA.
  • The Fatah-affiliated militias have generally not been involved in terror attacks against Israelis in recent years. It is hoped that this cell’s activity was an anomaly .

Context – the Palestinian Central Council: Earlier this week the Palestinian Central Council convened its 31st convention, its first in four years.

  • The convention recommended suspending security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF).
  • However, the convention deferred the decision to the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) Executive Committee, the highest level of Palestinian decision making that is unlikely to implement the decision.
  • The last convention four years ago made a similar declaration, which was also never implemented.
  • The convention also approved the appointment of Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA Civil Affairs Minister, as a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee to replace the late Saeb Erekat.
  • Part of al-Sheikh’s ministerial responsibility is the liaison with Israel. Three weeks ago he met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv.

Looking ahead: IDF forces are on a high state of alert across the West Bank, over concern for a retaliatory attack.

  • A fourth member of the terror cell, who was not in the car when it was attacked remains at large.
  • Despite the tension and the rhetoric, Israel is still hoping that shared vested interests allow the IDF and the PASF to maintain discreet coordination.
  • Israel also remains committed to confidence building measures and efforts to improve the West Bank economy.