Analysis: The Surge in Militant Activity in the West Bank

Over the course of the last six months, there has been a notable increase in militant activity in the West Bank, particularly with members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. 

Few have reported about the surge of militant activity in the West Bank over the six months. Although, a recent U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory on Sept. 13 warned to ‘exercise increased caution when travelling to the West Bank due to terrorism and civil unrest.’ 

The rise in activity can be linked to a number of factors; the high number of killings of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militants by Israeli security forces since May and the recent escape of six Palestinian militants from a high-security prison in northern Israel. 

One can look back to the postponement of Palestinian elections and the so-called TikTok intifada as the initial stages of this surge. However, it was the conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions in May that spurred the West Bank’s militant groups to become more operationally active. 

On May 18, Palestinian Islamic Jihad sent one of its militants in Hebron, Islam Zahideh, to attack an IDF post in the West Bank as a part of what Palestinian factions dubbed ‘Sword of Islam’ operation during the Gaza conflict. Zahideh, armed with pipe bombs and a Carlo-style submachine gun, was killed during the attack. Several days later, PIJ acknowledged its responsibility for the attack and named Zahideh as the perpetrator. 

Furthermore, there were a litany of militants killed in clashes with Israeli forces following the Hebron attack.

Two weeks after the killing of Zahideh, Fadi Weshat, an al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades member, died from a gunshot wound received by Israeli security forces during clashes in the West Bank. 

On June 9, Israeli counter-terrorism forces entered Jenin and shot two Palestinian Islamic Jihad members, killing one and capturing the second. 

Two months later, Diya’a al-Sabarini, an al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militant died of wounds he received after clashing with Israeli security forces in Jenin. 

Several days later, four Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli counter-terrorism forces in Jenin. Two of those Palestinians, Nour Jarrar, and Saleh Ammar, were members of militant groups. 

The deaths of the militants mentioned above, including more than 40 Palestinians killed in a period of six months in clashes with Israeli security forces, have spurred armed groups to march openly in the streets calling for revenge. 

Lastly, the escape of six militants from a high-security prison in northern Israel on Sept. 6 exacerbated the already unstable security situation in the West Bank. Factions held rallies in Gaza and the West Bank threatening a response if the escapees were harmed. 

However, despite weeks of threatening rhetoric from militant groups, including a reported resurrection of the ‘Joint Operations Room’ of Palestinian factions in the West Bank, the last two remaining militants on the run were captured early Sunday by Israeli forces in the militant stronghold of Jenin, unharmed and undefended by Palestinian factions.

The surge in militant activity in the West Bank over the last six months has likely reached its peak with the capture of the last two remaining militants. A few rockets may be fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza out of frustration over the arrests in the coming days, but the success of Israeli security forces in capturing all of the militants alive and unharmed will likely have a stabilizing effect over the coming weeks in the West Bank. 

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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