What was different about Monday's West Bank Israeli operation?

A senior security analyst fears the region might soon suffer a 'much broader and more severe' deterioration

The funeral of Palestinian men killed in an Israeli military raid in Jenin. AFP
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On Monday morning, Israeli forces entered the city of Jenin in the West Bank with orders to detain two Palestinian suspects.

The operation spiralled into hours of fighting that killed at least five Palestinians and injured at least 90.

It was the latest in a near-nightly series of raids that have been taking place during recent months as the country tries to contain a new wave of resistance that has claimed the lives of more than 20 Israelis in 2023.

This year, the deaths of more than 120 Palestinians, who have mostly been killed in the West Bank, were reported.

The operations rarely last more than a few hours, but Monday's ended in the late afternoon, as Israeli forces found themselves stranded after Palestinian fighters used improvised explosive devices of a seemingly unprecedented strength, injuring seven soldiers.

As the situation deteriorated, Israel's military fired missiles from an Apache helicopter to protect the stranded soldiers, the first time such firepower has been used since the Second Intifada two decades ago.

Palestinian media was soon awash with images of damaged Israeli vehicles, and young men parading wreckage through the streets.

Despite the operation's conclusion, Kobi Michael, an Israeli security analyst, fears the ramifications of the raid might be felt for some time, perhaps to devastating effect.

“[This could be] a new chapter in the current symphony of the West Bank. I really hope that I’m wrong in my assessment,” Mr Michael told The National.

“The use of these explosive devices shows us first that [Palestinians] have the knowledge to make them, second the means, and third that they have the motivation to use them and therefore accept the escalation.”

Israeli politicians, including ministers in the current government – which is widely viewed as the most right-wing in the country's history – have called for a harsh response.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a tweet: “There are no compromises in the fight against terrorism. We will continue to take an offensive approach. We will use all the means at our disposal and we will cripple the terrorist elements wherever they are found.”

Senior politician Avigdor Liberman said the government “must launch an extensive, large-scale military operation [in the northern West Bank]”.

However, Mr Michael believes the nature of the Palestinian response points to something Israel's security establishment has long feared: the encroaching nature of sophisticated regional terrorist groups into the West Bank, led by the country's arch-enemy, Iran.

“I think the fingerprints of who provided [Palestinian fighters] the ability to deploy these weapons are those of Hezbollah and Iran. That means those two parties are working to escalate the situation … If this happens, we might see another cycle of fighting that is more serious than the ones we’ve seen so far this year,” he said.

Those cycles include deadly rocket fire with militants in the Gaza Strip, most recently in May.

Adding to concerns, are increasingly limited traditional avenues to de-escalate tensions in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mr Michael pointed to Cairo's crucial role in defusing clashes between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and increasingly the West Bank, with which Egypt does not share a border, unlike Gaza.

“It is in Egypt's interest … It understands the interface between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I think, therefore, that they will try to calm the situation there as well,” he said.

“They have open channels with [Gaza-based] Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and of course Hamas, but they are more limited with regard to the West Bank in comparison to their options in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“Their challenge will be to keep the Gaza Strip calm and disconnected from the West Bank, but I'm not sure that they will be able to do so for a very long period of time. So, generally speaking, I can say that we are on a very slippery slope.”

Updated: June 20, 2023, 6:37 AM