Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader Behind the Rise in West Bank Militancy Arrested

Bassam al-Saadi, the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the West Bank, was arrested Monday night in Jenin during a combined operation involving the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and other Israeli security agencies.

A statement published by Israel’s security agency, Shabak, alleged al-Saadi was behind the military buildup of PIJ in the West Bank, particularly in Jenin. He was also a driving force in the radicalization of PIJ operatives in the area. The statement added that al-Saadi was arrested at his home in a “special forces operation” with Asharaf al-Jada, a former “PIJ prisoner” and al-Saadi’s “closest aide.”

If the Shabak’s statement is true, it will validate FDD’s Long War Journals assessment last year that a military build up of militant organizations was occurring in the West Bank. [See FDD’s Long War Journal: Analysis: The Surge in Militant Activity in the West Bank]

During Monday night’s operation, militants from Katibat Jenin clashed with Israeli security forces resulting in the death of one Palestinian, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The militant, Derar al-Kafrini, was later claimed by Katibat Jenin as one of its members. [More on Katibat Jenin and other groups: Analysis: Understanding the Militant Groups Behind the Violence in the West Bank]

In a bid to calm tensions, images of al-Saadi were leaked after his arrest to show that he was in good health and had not been gravely harmed in the operation.

After learning of al-Saadi’s arrest, PIJ announced an alert to all its formations in Gaza and the West Bank. This announcement was likely premature by the group due to initial reports from Palestinian media that al-Saadi had been injured by the IDF during his arrest.

Despite the leaked images, the IDF announced Tuesday morning it had closed roads adjacent to the Gaza Strip in a bid to avoid civilian casualties if PIJ decided to retaliate. At this time, the roads continue to be closed until a security assessment is made to reopen them.

While there is a clear concern that PIJ will retaliate for the IDF’s operation in Jenin Monday night, historically, PIJ does not respond militarily to arrests of its members and leaders, especially in the West Bank. However, it is possible that a response, such as a rocket attack against an Israeli community near the Gaza border, may occur over the next days.

It’s clear that PIJ is the main force behind the surge in militant activity in the West Bank and al-Saadi’s arrest is potentially a significant blow to the militant group’s West Bank operations. While it’s too early to say if PIJ will be able to continue operating at a high level without al-Saadi, the IDF and other affiliated security agencies appear to be making significant efforts in neutralizing the group’s activities 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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