Analysis: West Bank Violence Trending Upward

Photo Credit: Nasser Ishtayeh

On Thursday morning, Israeli security forces operating in Jenin came under gunfire while attempting to apprehend Ahmed Jeradat and Daajef Bages, both suspected of involvement in militant activity. During the exchange of fire, Tariq al-Damej, a militant belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) branch in Jenin, was killed. Another militant belonging to al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Sidqi Zarkneh, was also killed during the operation.

In a brief communique published online, PIJ’s Jenin branch stated al-Damej was a “fighter of the al-Quds Brigades’ Jenin Battalion” and described his death as a “cowardly assassination” by Israeli security forces.

Like PIJ’s Jenin branch, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades issued a statement mourning Zakarneh saying he “rose as a martyr” after being “affected by the bullets of the Zionist occupation forces.”

A third Palestinian was killed during the clashes in Jenin, though it does not appear he was acting on behalf of an armed organization.

Militant Activity Resurging

In November, it appeared that militant activity in the West Bank was trending downward after key members of the Lions’ Den were eliminated by Israeli security forces or surrendered to the Palestinian Authority. However, in recent weeks, shooting attacks in the West Bank have risen, including two significant bombing attacks that occurred in Jerusalem on Nov. 23. While it remains unknown if a West Bank group was behind the bombings, it’s clear that militant activity is increasing after last month’s brief lull in attacks.

Over the past two weeks, the Lions’ Den has claimed credit for several shooting operations against IDF checkpoints in the West Bank after activity by the group dropped significantly in November. The claims suggest the Lions’ Den remains active despite Israeli operations.

Additionally, for the first time since major military operations against it in October, Lions’ Den militants marched in the old city of Nablus on Friday, during a memorial service for its former leader Wadi al-Houh, who was killed by Israeli security forces on Oct. 25.

Videos posted on social media documenting the service show a group of armed militants, all in matching uniforms, and what appears to be dedicated media person recording their activity. The scene was a stark demonstration that the Lions’ Den is a well-funded and organized militant faction, unlike other established Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority Has Lost its Influence

On Dec. 5, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Research Department, Brig. Gen. Amit Saar, warned violence in the West Bank would continue into 2023. Saar correctly noted the erosion of the PA’s influence in the West Bank, saying that “we are seeing the foundations that allowed us (Israel) to manage the conflict beginning to falter.”

Saar’s assessment of the violence continuing in the West Bank is likely based on several factors; While operations against the Lions’ Den have been effective in neutralizing the group’s abilities to launch daily attacks against IDF troops and Israeli settlements, other established organizations such as PIJ, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas remain active. And as previously noted, the Lions’ Den appears to be resurging, claiming two attacks on Friday against IDF positions in the West Bank.

The PA is weak, and militant organizations have filled the vacuum left by Abbas’ ruling authority. They have strengthened their positions in northern West Bank cities and have used it as a base to orchestrate attacks. Coupled with foreign actors such as Lebanese Hezbollah attempting to flood the West Bank with illegal weapons, it’s unlikely attacks perpetrated by militant organizations will subside anytime soon without a significant change in the way the PA is handling the undermining activity by armed groups in its own backyard.

Joe Truzman is a 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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