The rise in West Bank and Gaza Strip violence targeting the IDF raises war concerns.
By JOHN T. HUDDY/THE MEDIA LINE
A deadly car-ramming in the West Bank. IDF soldiers targeted along the Gaza Strip border. Air strikes and artillery fire on Hamas targets. The increase in violence once again raises the specter of another conflict erupting between Israel and Hamas as the weather warms up and hostilities flare.
Two soldiers were killed Friday outside the Mevo Dotan Jewish community in the northern West Bank when a Palestinian man slammed his car into them, also injuring two others soldiers.
Security forces caught the attacker. His family said he had no known ties to any terrorist group. Still, Hamas praised the attack.
Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser (res.), a former senior IDF intelligence official and Middle East expert at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line he thinks the increased violence has been incited by Palestinian leaders who aim to “make the impression that [President Donald] Trump’s moves did not go without a reaction.”
Hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza rioted Friday in a “day of rage” marking 100 days since the White House’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. More protests are expected leading up to the US Embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary in May.
The violent demonstrations continued Saturday along the Gaza Strip border, followed by the detonation of an improvised explosive device near the border fence which targeted IDF troops. There were no injuries or damage, but it is the third such attack along the same stretch of the frontier since last Thursday.
The IDF responded with artillery fire and air strikes on Hamas targets in the Strip. The Israeli army also destroyed two Hamas tunnels overnight Saturday, the fourth subterranean passageway the IDF has targeted since November.
One of the tunnels stretched from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip into the Eshkol Regional Council near the Kerem Shalom kibbutz.
“As part of the operational, intelligence and technological efforts to locate and neutralize terror tunnels, which has been ongoing since Operation ‘Protective Edge’ [the 2014 war with Hamas] and has been intensified in the past six months, the attempt to renew an old terror tunnel made by the Hamas terror organization was identified at an early phase,” an IDF press release sent to The Media Line read. It noted that the tunnel did not pose a threat to residents of the area.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in a statement Sunday morning that Israel’s policy is to “act firmly against any attempt to [harm] us and to systematically eliminate the infrastructure of the terrorist tunnels. It’s time for the international community to recognize the financial aid to Gaza is buried underground.”
Likewise, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted, “I recommend that Hamas invest the money in the welfare of the residents of Gaza because by the end of the year, there will be not one tunnel.”
For its part, Hamas sought to downplay the IDF’s actions, with a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing contending that the tunnel targeted by Israel was an old one that was no longer in use.
Nevertheless, experts agree that the developments mark a dangerous escalation.
Kuperwasser said Hamas may be encouraging terror attacks in and from the West Bank and Jerusalem, while the Palestinian Authority is promoting attacks that do not involve the use of firearms and explosives.
“It is very difficult to predict if [Israel] is going to be successful in reversing this trend,” Kuperwasser explained. “In the past there were cases in which terror attacks succeeded and things spiraled out of control.”