Israel Treads Carefully During Big Push in Shadow War With Iran
In what is likely a gesture toward would-be critics of the IDF, Netanyahu says the troops targeting terrorists at Jenin, operating in ‘one of the most crowded places in the world,’ are taking special care to avoid civilian casualties.
The Israeli Defense Forces’ largest West Bank operation in more than two decades is part of a shadow war between Israel and its chief regional nemesis, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Israeli officials, fearing an international backlash and a widened war, are saying that the brigade-size operation at the northern West Bank is narrowly designed to destroy terrorist capabilities at Jenin’s so-called refugee camp. The operation, initially dubbed House and Garden — Jenin is the Arabic word for garden — follows a spate of terrorist attacks launched and coordinated from that location. Since the start of the year, at least 25 Israeli civilians have been killed in such attacks.
Rather than pinpoint operations like the ones depicted in the Netflix hit series “Fauda,” the IDF’s surprise invasion of Jenin’s environs was launched at 1 a.m. Monday morning with 1,000 ground troops that are backed by the air force.
No Israeli force this size has entered a Palestinian Authority-controlled city since 2002, when Prime Minister Sharon launched an operation dubbed Defensive Shield at major West Bank cities to end Palestinian terrorism following a massacre of Passover worshippers at the town of Netanya. So: Why now, and why Jenin?
“The Palestinian Authority no longer functions in that area. It can’t assume responsibility for the security situation and likely doesn’t want to either,” the co-creator of “Fauda,” Avi Issacharoff, writes in the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Ahronot. That reality has raised a new, more menacing problem for Israel, he adds: “Iran and its proxies have entered the vacuum.”
In the past few months, “Jenin has become a sanctuary city for terrorism, and we are ending it,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said Monday alongside the defense minister, Yoav Gallant. He added that the operation is not time-limited.
The IDF, he noted, is collecting arms and explosives, as well as destroying laboratories where terrorists are building rockets, improvised explosive devices, and other arms. The IDF released images of one seized command center, where terrorists have followed IDF activities on computer monitors.
In what was likely a gesture toward would-be critics of the IDF, Mr. Netanyahu said the troops, operating in “one of the most crowded places in the world,” are taking special care to avoid civilian casualties. None of the nine men who were killed so far were non-combatants, he said.
Mr. Netanyahu is clearly attempting to avoid a widening of the operation. In what was described as a precaution, the IDF ordered the cancellation of a pop concert at Sderot, a town abutting the Gaza border. While the Hamas-controlled strip is yet to join the Jenin fight, there are indications that under certain circumstances it may launch retaliatory strikes.
“There is no distinction between the resistance in Gaza and the West Bank,” Hamas’s Lebanon-based deputy chief, Saleh Arouri, said Monday, adding, “Arab and Islamic countries have means and options that can be activated to exert pressure on the occupation.”
Hamas’s top benefactor, Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has been stung by several recent Israeli successes, including a daring kidnapping on Iranian soil of a ringleader of a group attempting to hit Jewish targets in Cyprus. Israel is also working hard to set back Iran’s nuclear activities, and constantly attacks Iranian arms deliveries to its proxies through Syria.
According to Mr. Issacharoff, a longtime Palestinian affairs reporter and a veteran of an IDF unit similar to the one depicted in “Fauda,” Iran has recently decided to concentrate less on targeting Israelis abroad, and more on beefing up a Palestinian infrastructure in the West Bank. From there, terrorists can more easily kill Israeli citizens and target installations inside the country, hitting Israel where it hurts most.
The Jenin refugee camp was erected in the aftermath of Israel’s 1948 war of independence, when similar camps throughout the Mideast housed Arabs fleeing that war. Descendants of Arabs who were displaced at that time are still recognized as Palestinian refugees. They gain no citizenship even in places like Jenin, which Arabs consider part of a Palestinian state, and where according to the Oslo Accords of the 1990s the Palestinian Authority has complete jurisdiction.
In recent years groups like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and various terror derivatives have pushed the Palestinian Authority security forces aside. Iran has identified an opportunity to create a beachhead right at Israel’s doorstep.
Israel has seen a similar scenario in Lebanon, where in the aftermath of a war in 2006 the United Nation was charged with assuring that Hezbollah was disarmed. It never was; instead, Iran has equipped its proxy with at least 150,000 warheads that threaten destruction if an all-out war erupts.
To prevent a similar dynamic at the West Bank, the IDF is attempting to set back the Iran-backed groups that are beefing up ythri presence of terrorists at Jenin. It may be a never-ending battle, but that is the nature of Israel’s long shadow war against the mullahs who’ve vowed they’ll erase it off the map.