Israeli army facing new fronts from settler violence to Iranian terror

Israeli army finds itself facing a new front from within

Since the War of Independence, the defence establishment has not faced a period as complex, dangerous and challenging as the current one.

The IDF, Shin Bet and the police are currently compelled to fight not only against external enemies but also simultaneously against internal threats to their institutional nature and functionality.

From June 20 to June 25, Israeli extremists perpetrated 28 violent attacks against Palestinian villages across the northern and central West Bank. One Palestinian was killed and 54 others were injured, while four Israeli citizens and one security officer were injured.

These included an attack by over 300 Israeli extremists on the Palestinian village of Turmus Aiya, northwest of Ramallah, on June 21; another rampage that evening in Orif, south of Nablus, against Palestinians, their property and other structures, including a school and a mosque; and more.

The Palestinian Authority has reported more Israeli settler violence toward Palestinians as tensions simmer in the West Bank, with Israeli settlers being accused of burning crops belonging to a local Palestinian in the village of at-Tawani, south of Hebron.

The  situation has prompted the Defense Minister, the IDF chief, the heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad and the Police Commissioner to unite and mobilise their forces not only toward combating Palestinian terrorism and Iranian subversion but also toward senior government ministers and their supporters who hold political and ideological agendas that clash with the objectives pursued by the IDF, Shin Bet and the police on the ground.

Security forces failed completely in their attempts to curb rampages, raising questions about how hard they really tried to quell the riots.

Central Command is talking about “crazy times” in the territories, the likes of which even veteran officers don’t recall. The number of warnings about potential terrorist attacks by Palestinians has significantly increased, and preparations for such attacks are now underway across the entire West Bank, spanning from Jenin in the north to Hebron in the south. Thanks to the precise intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet and extensive arrests, a significant number of terrorist attacks have been prevented.

At the same time, and as distinct from previous periods, the most radical and violent faction of the settlers is represented at the cabinet table. Ministers are actively promoting the establishment of illegal settler outposts. Some ministers are even backing the pogroms in Palestinian villages and are trying to intimidate high-ranking figures in the security establishment.

The  challenges that the IDF is addressing primarily involve shootings on the roads, whether it’s from Palestinian vehicles toward Jewish vehicles or armed attacks on Israeli vehicles traveling along the main routes. All of this occurs alongside stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails, which have already become routine on West Bank roads.

The second issue that the security forces are dealing with involves improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and laboratories for manufacturing explosive materials, alongside attempts to smuggle conventional explosives from Iranian-backed groups to local organisations in the territory. The third issue is related to rockets, which are primarily addressed on the intelligence level.

Many fear a new chapter of full-scale fighting is on the horizon. Last year was the bloodiest on record in the two areas since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, of the 2000s, and this year is on track to be even worse: at least 137 Palestinians and 24 Israelis have been killed so far, mostly in IDF raids and Palestinian terrorist attacks. Two surprise Israeli operations in the blockaded Gaza Strip over the past year led to the deaths of another 83 Palestinians, and one Israeli.

Settler violence is not a new phenomenon, but it is growing. Around a third of the 700,000 or so Israelis now living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are religious-nationalists, motivated by what they see as a divine mission to restore the biblical land of Israel to the Jewish people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported as saying that Palestinian hopes of establishing a sovereign state “must be eliminated,” in a closed-door meeting about his government’s plans for the eventual departure of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We are preparing for the period after Abu Mazen,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel “need[s] the Palestinian Authority. We must not allow it to collapse.”

People close to Abbas recently told Israeli officials that he has no intention of doing anything to help Israel in Jenin and Nablus, despite the declarations of an imminent IDF operation in the northern West Bank if the chaos and terrorist attacks resume.

The emerging picture of mass violence backed by higher authorities, the helplessness of the security forces and the deliberate effort to create more settler outposts – is upsetting many reservists. Following the pogrom, reservists from the 69th Squadron started organising and their collective refusal to report for training was one of the significant peaks of the previous crisis.

Meanwhile, the government has granted far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich the authority to oversee construction in the occupied territories. Thousands of new housing units have already been approved this year, at a pace that could break construction records in the West Bank. These developments reflect the true balance of forces in the government and apparently also Netanyahu’s decision to veer rightward and prioritise the demands of his coalition over the expectations of the international community.

Security sources told Haaretz that it’s perfectly clear  the rioters believe they will receive backing from politicians, including from within the government, if they are arrested. The military presence in the territories has been described as a “sinkhole” – a mission that is drawing more and more attention, resources and forces at the expense of every other military task, however important.

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Israeli army finds itself facing new fronts, also at home (Ynet)
Analysis: While the IDF strives to curb Palestinian terrorism and counter Iranian subversion, the primary challenge arises from within, with far-right ministers who aim to set the West Bank alight and reservists who threaten to not report for duty.

‘Crazy times’: As Israeli settlers rampage with impunity, army brass describe an unprecedented reality (Haaretz)

Settlers’ pogroms against Palestinians, their support in the government and Netanyahu’s latest right-wing pivot have driven some officers to warn of a West Bank “sinkhole” that will require ever more resources.

Israel and the world are watching West Bank violence (Jerusalem Post)
Can the government clamp down on terror, rein in Jewish vigilantes in the West Bank, and not implode?

Israeli settlers burn Palestinian crops in Hebron: PA (Al Monitor)
Tensions are soaring in the West Bank despite efforts by Israeli, Palestinian and US officials to calm the situation.

Palestinians furious over Netanyahu claims that Israel must ‘crush’ statehood ambitions (Jerusalem Post)
The veteran Israeli politician has revealed his true goal, critics say: no Palestinian state and a Palestinian Authority that serves only as Israel’s “subcontractor”.

Islamic Jihad chief says his Iran-backed group forming fighting units across West Bank (Times of Israel)
Back from Tehran, Ziad Nakhaleh says Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has supported his terror organisation’s efforts “to move from a state of calm to one of resistance” in the region.

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Since Smotrich appointment, Israel nearly stopped enforcing law on illegal settlement construction (Haaretz)
Israel’s Civil Administration, under the auspices of far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich, has only twice enforced orders to destroy illegal construction projects on average each month, compared with 25 each month last year.

UK, Canada, Australia call on Israel to reverse approvals for settlement expansion (Times of Israel)
FMs condemn okayed plans to build thousands of settlement homes in West Bank, express deep concern over cycle of violence following Eli terror shooting, reprisal attacks.

European Parliament committee calls to charge Israel with ‘war crimes’ (Middle East Monitor)
EU to work with the ICC to prosecute Israel?

Photos: Israeli soldiers stopping Jewish settlers from entering the Palestinian town of Turmus Ayya in the West Bank last week. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)