To read more articles from The Media Line, click here.
Two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis and wounded four more on Tuesday near the Eli settlement in the northern West Bank, Israeli medics reported.
The victims were identified as Elisha Anteman, 17, and Ofer Fayerman, 64, both of Eli; Harel Masoud, 21, of Yad Binyamin; and Nachman Shmuel Mordoff, 17, of Ahiya.
According to Israeli media, one of the gunmen, Muhannad Faleh, was shot dead by an Israeli civilian at the scene of the shooting. The other gunman, Khaled Mustafa Sabah, fled the scene and was killed by Israeli special forces in the town of Tubas, around 18 miles north of Eli.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called for an “urgent security consultation” in response to the attack.His far-right coalition partners are urging a large-scale military operation in the West Bank.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant described the incident as a “terror attack” and said security officials will meet on Tuesday evening to assess the situation.
Palestinian factions praised the attack. Hamas, the armed group that governs Gaza, claimed the two gunmen as members and said the attack came “in response to the crimes of the occupation in Jenin and the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The shooting took place a day after Israeli forces launched a deadly raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, in which six Palestinians were killed.
Jenin has become the epicenter of the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During Monday’s raid, a gunfight broke out that killed six Palestinians and injured nearly 100. Israeli forces came under heavy fire, with eight soldiers injured in the clashes. Some of the wounded Israeli soldiers were injured after Palestinian fighters detonated a massive roadside bomb next to a military vehicle.
The battle saw the rare use of an Israeli helicopter gunship in the West Bank, which fired missiles in order to provide cover and enable the evacuation of injured Israeli forces.
Israel is conducting almost nightly raids throughout the Palestinian territories, with many of these military operations concentrated in the northern West Bank. Monday’s West Bank clashes were the most serious in years. Photos of the fighting brought to mind images from the 2002 Israeli military operation in the West Bank during the Second Intifada.
Intense fighting took place during the 2002 Battle of Jenin, which was part of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield. Israel destroyed hundreds of Palestinian homes during the battle.
Defense Minister Gallant warned on Tuesday that “all options are on the table,” apparently suggesting the potential of a larger operation in the area.
During a visit to wounded soldiers, he said that he had “instructed the defense establishment to take proactive and offensive actions wherever there is a danger to the lives of our citizens and our forces.”
Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh accused Israel of waging a “fierce and open war” against the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) threatened retaliatory actions against Israel.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel of the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies told The Media Line that the security situation in the West Bank is rapidly deteriorating.
“We are in a trend of escalation. The situation is very clear, especially in the northern part of the West Bank,” he said.
He said that continued Israeli military raids in the West Bank, which inspire resentment among Palestinians,will lead to more clashes similar to what happened on Monday.
“Younger Palestinians are ready to fight against us, because they are fighting against occupation, and they feel very good to fight against the [Israel Defense Forces],” Dekel said.
He noted that Palestinian fighters receive money from Iran and use weapons stolen from Israeli military bases or smuggled in from Syria or Jordan.
According to Palestinian security estimates, there are about 1,500 Palestinian fighters in Jenin and other parts of the northern West Bank, including Nablus.
Jenin is controlled by armed groups affiliated with Fatah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other Palestinian factions. The various armed groups are closely coordinating their actions.
In addition to the groups associated with major Palestinian factions, a new class of Palestinian fighters is making itself known in Jenin and Nablus. Many of these fighters are younger Palestinians who are dissatisfied with the leadership of the PA. Some are loosely affiliated with the established factions without closely consulting with them or being directly under their command.
The PA security forces have little control in the northern West Bank, especially in Jenin and Nablus. Theirability to impose control in the area has diminished greatly in recent years, with several failed attempts to take charge led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces.
Muhammad al-Masri, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies and an expert in political and security affairs, told The Media Line that the ongoing raids in the West Bank led to the intensity of Monday’s clashes.
“What happened yesterday was bigger than what the Israeli army expected, and there were a lot of miscalculations,” he said. “This indicates the development of the resistance in dealing with daily intrusions and learning from its previous experiences and adapting.”
“These young men don’t have any past military experience and they seem to have gained a lot as a result of the almost daily clashes with Israeli security forces,” he said.
Al-Masri described Monday’s battle as “a moral achievement against one of the strongest armies in the region,” predicting that it will strengthen the Palestinian cause and lead the Israeli military to reevaluate its strategy around raids.
Both Israeli and Palestinian officials are worried that clashes like those that broke out on Monday could become widespread throughout the West Bank.
Monday’s gun battle was seen by many Palestinians as a victory and a sign of Israeli military weakness, potentially opening the door to bolder military action from Palestinians. The Israeli military may also respond to the clashes by using more troops and stronger equipment in future raids, potentially increasing Palestinian casualties.
Political scientist Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University described the “readiness of young Palestinians from all factions to use arms against the Israeli army” as a clear escalation.
“What we saw yesterday is something new,” Klein told The Media Line. “Palestinian resistance enjoys local success and support, and it’s a kind of big achievement in their mind.”
For Israel, the dilemma is whether to respond to the escalation by using increased force in future raids and staying longer in the raided areas, Klein said.
Leaders of the settler movement have called for a large-scale military operation in the West Bank. Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted during Monday’s battle that “the time has come to replace the tweezer operations with a wide-ranging campaign to eradicate the nests of terror.” Smotrich himself lives in Kedumim, a settlement in the northern West Bank.
Klein said that the settler movement may succeed in applying pressure on the Israeli government.
Hamas and PIJ leaders praised the gunmen involved in Monday’s raid.
“The resistance in the occupied West Bank is strong,” Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said. “The occupation is surprised each time it tries to end the resistance.”
Many members of Israel’s defense establishment claim that Iran is behind the recent escalation.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei boasted on Twitter last week about PIJ’s actions in the West Bank.
“PIJ [and] other Palestinian resistance movements have found the main key to fighting the Zionist regime. The continually growing authority of resistance groups in the West Bank is the key to bringing the Zionist enemy to its knees, [and] this course must be continued,” Khamenei tweeted.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides responded Tuesday night to the violence in both Jenin and Eli, writing on Twitter, “Deeply concerned about the civilian deaths and injuries that have occurred in the West Bank these past 48 hours, including that of minors. Praying for the families as they mourn the loss of loved ones, or tend to those injured.”
Security experts like Dekel say that the escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will likely continue.
“Without any political horizon, I don’t see any way, any ability to change the negative direction,” Dekel said.