Israel’s Major Incursion in the West Bank Is Over. Did It Solve Anything? - The World News

Israel’s Major Incursion in the West Bank Is Over. Did It Solve Anything?

Before 8 a.m. on Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had finished its incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin, aimed at curbing attacks on Israelis by armed Palestinians. Barely five hours later, about 25 miles away, shots fired from a car with Palestinian plates hit an Israeli police vehicle, causing damage but no casualties.

The 48-hour military operation was one of the largest in many years against armed militant groups in the occupied West Bank, including deadly airstrikes not seen in the area for about two decades. But few Israelis or Palestinians harbored any illusions, saying that before long, the groups that lost weapons and people to the incursion would rebuild and the troops would be back.

Three decades after the Oslo peace process raised hopes that Palestinian and Israeli states could exist side by side, prospects for peaceful coexistence seem ever more remote.

Underlying sources of Palestinian anger remain, including the West Bank occupation dating to the 1967 Middle Eastern war, continued encroachment by Jewish settlements and a lack of economic opportunity. Palestinian statehood is as distant as ever. Ultranationalist members of Israel’s government reject any talks or political progress with the Palestinian leadership, which is weak, divided and unwilling or unable to police rising hotbeds of militancy.

Israeli analysts said the military chalked up a tactical success in Jenin, scouring the crowded, built-up refugee camp that the Israeli authorities have described as a haven for militants and that, before the raid, had become a no-go zone for Palestinian security forces and, increasingly, for Israeli forces.

About 1,000 soldiers, mostly commandos, discovered and dismantled laboratories for manufacturing explosives and caches of weapons and explosives hidden inside buildings, under the narrow roads and even in pits beneath a mosque, the military said.

Twelve Palestinians were killed during the operation, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Scores were detained and interrogated by Israel’s security services, in some cases to obtain real-time intelligence, officials said. And one Israeli soldier was killed, possibly mistakenly by a fellow soldier.

But the episode lacked any deeper strategy and could even spur more violence and revenge attacks, analysts said.

“It doesn’t mean we’ve done what we’ve done, we’re out and that’s it,” said Itamar Yaar, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a colonel in the reserves.

“The operation was relatively short and limited,” he said. “That means we might see similar activities” in the Jenin camp, though perhaps on a smaller scale, he added, “even tomorrow.”

Israel said that all the Palestinians who were killed had been combatants. At least nine were claimed by Palestinian militant groups as fighters by Wednesday evening — eight of them by Islamic Jihad, including a 16-year-old boy, and the ninth by an armed faction loosely affiliated with Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian faction that dominates the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian authorities did not specify whether any of those who died were civilians.

Jenin, in the hills near the northern end of the West Bank, has long been a stronghold of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main militant groups fighting Israel, as well as the armed militias affiliated with Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian political faction that dominates the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

More recently, Jenin, and particularly the camp, has become a hub and a refuge for unaffiliated armed groups that have sprung up over the past year or two, made up of a new generation of gunmen who act on their own initiative and do not answer to the established hierarchies and organizations.

Israel has frequently launched short raids into Jenin to arrest Palestinians suspected of planning or carrying out dozens of attacks against Israelis. Many have turned deadly, with prolonged gun battles between troops and armed militants. It was during one such raid last year that a Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was fatally shot, probably by an Israeli soldier.

A raid on June 19 this year indicated that the dangers in the camp had reached a new level, setting off an escalating spiral of violence.

An hourslong gun battle resulted in the deaths of seven Palestinians, including a 15-year-old girl, according to Palestinian health officials. Israeli helicopter gunships entered the area for the first time since the early 2000s to provide air cover to forces trying to extricate wounded soldiers and armored vehicles disabled by a powerful roadside bomb.

A day later, Palestinian gunmen from a village in the northern West Bank killed four Israeli civilians, including a 17-year-old boy, near the Jewish settlement of Eli. The day after that, an Israeli airstrike by a drone killed three Palestinian militants in a car. The military said they had shot at an Israeli position near Jenin and had carried out attacks against Jewish settlements in the area.

The killing of the four Israelis at Eli set off waves of reprisals as Israeli extremists rampaged through Palestinian towns and villages, setting fire to homes, cars and fields. It also prompted calls from within the Israeli government to launch a major military operation, as well as an effort to augment the settlements with plans for thousands of new homes.

The Palestinian Authority has been further weakened in the eyes of many Palestinians by its inability to protect them from army raids or settler violence, to defend the occupied land from the growth of the settlements or to offer any diplomatic horizon toward a negotiated solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to analysts.

The interim body formed in the mid-1990s as part of the Oslo peace process is supposed to exercise limited self-rule in parts of the occupied West Bank and has security forces numbering about 60,000 members.

But it is widely viewed by Palestinians as a corrupt and inept subcontractor for the Israeli occupation, and it has all but abdicated responsibility for areas like the Jenin refugee camp, far from its center of power in Ramallah.

Mr. Yaar, the former deputy national security council head, said that Israel’s incursion, which hobbled the armed groups in Jenin at least partly and temporarily, presented “an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to take back control.”

Palestinian analysts said that was unlikely, even though the Palestinian Authority’s main rivals were in the Israeli cross hairs, because public sentiment was heavily on the side of the armed groups in Jenin.

“I think there is overwhelming sympathy and support for those guys trying to fight against the occupation by whatever means,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst and former Palestinian minister based in Ramallah.

“I think that one of the most immediate and obvious outcomes of this Israeli operation — or on our side, the term used is aggression — is a dramatic increase in public support for resistance” against Israel, he said, adding, “One of the casualties of it is the Palestinian Authority, which is further marginalized.”

Television images on Wednesday showed angry crowds of Palestinian mourners at the funerals of those killed in Jenin expelling Palestinian Authority officials who had come to pay their respects.

According to Tamir Hayman, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and now the managing director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, the “tactical excellence” of the operation, meaning the military’s quality intelligence and precision in locating and destroying targets, obviated “the need to think about strategy.”

Israeli and Palestinian analysts said the Israeli operation could also spur revenge attacks like the shooting of the police vehicle on Wednesday, which was captured on video. A Palestinian man drove a vehicle into Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, injuring at least eight, some gravely, before trying to stab some of them and being fatally shot by a passer-by.

And early Wednesday morning, militants fired five rockets toward southern Israel from the Hamas-run coastal enclave of Gaza, in what analysts described as a token show of solidarity with the West Bank. The rockets were intercepted and caused no casualties.

Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, condemned what they called Israeli aggression in Jenin and asked for international intervention. These countries have made similar condemnations of Israeli actions in the past but have rarely gone beyond declarations.

Israeli officials emphasized from the outset that the incursion was never intended to conquer or hold territory in Jenin. Nor was it intended to keep Israeli forces out of Jenin for the long run. Rather, it has created conditions in the camp, such as removing roadside bombs, that might make future raids easier — at least for a while.

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