By 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Israeli army said it had ended its incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin, aimed at curbing attacks on Israelis by armed Palestinians. Barely five hours later, about 25 miles away, shots fired from a car with Palestinian plates hit an Israeli police vehicle, causing damage but no casualties.
The 48-hour military operation was one of the largest in many years against armed militant groups in the occupied West Bank, including deadly airstrikes not seen in the area for about two decades. But few Israelis or Palestinians harbored any illusions, saying that before long, the groups that lost weapons and people to the incursion would rebuild and the troops would return.
Three decades after the Oslo peace process raised hopes that Palestinian and Israeli states could exist side by side, prospects for peaceful coexistence seem increasingly remote.
Underlying sources of Palestinian anger remain, including the West Bank occupation dating to the 1967 Middle East war, continued encroachment of Jewish settlements and lack of economic opportunity. Palestinian statehood is as far away as ever. Ultranationalist members of Israel’s government reject any negotiation or political progress with the Palestinian leadership, which is weak, divided and unwilling or unable to police a rising tide of militancy.
Israeli analysts said the military was counting on a tactical success in Jenin by searching the crowded, built-up refugee camp, which Israeli authorities described as a haven for militants and which, before the attack, had become a no-go zone for Palestinian security. forces and, increasingly, for Israeli troops.
About 1,000 soldiers, mostly commandos, discovered and dismantled explosives-making laboratories and caches of weapons and explosives hidden inside buildings, under the narrow roads and even in ditches under a mosque, the military said.
Twelve Palestinians were killed during the operation, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Scores were detained and interrogated by Israel’s security services, in some cases to obtain real-time intelligence, officials said. And one Israeli soldier was killed, perhaps mistakenly by a fellow soldier.
But the episode lacked any deeper strategy and could even spur more violence and revenge attacks, analysts said.
“It doesn’t mean we did what we did, we’re out and about,” said Itamar Yaar, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a colonel in the reserves.
“The operation was relatively short and limited,” he said. “That means we may see similar activities” in the Jenin camp, though perhaps on a smaller scale, he added, “even tomorrow.”
Israel said all the Palestinians who were killed were fighters, and several were claimed by Palestinian militant groups as fighters, including a 16-year-old boy. The Palestinian authorities did not specify whether any of those who died were civilians.
Jenin, in the hills near the northern end of the West Bank, has long been a stronghold of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main militant groups fighting Israel, as well as the armed militias affiliated with Fatah, the main Palestinian political faction that dominates the. Western-backed Palestinian Authority.
More recently, Jenin, and especially the camp, has become a center and refuge for unaffiliated armed groups that have emerged over the past year or two, made up of a new generation of gunmen who act on their own initiative and do not respond. to the established hierarchies and organizations.
Israel often launched short raids in Jenin to arrest Palestinians suspected of planning or carrying out dozens of attacks against Israelis. Many have turned deadly, with prolonged firefights between troops and armed militants. It was during one such attack last year that a Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was fatally shot, probably by an Israeli soldier.
An attack on June 19 this year indicated that the dangers in the camp had reached a new level, triggering an increasing spiral of violence.
An hour-long firefight resulted in the deaths of seven Palestinians, including a 15-year-old girl, according to Palestinian health officials. Israeli helicopter gunships entered the area for the first time since the early 2000s to provide air cover to forces trying to evacuate wounded soldiers and armored vehicles disabled by a powerful roadside bomb.
A day later, Palestinian gunmen from a village in the northern West Bank killed four Israeli civilians, including a 17-year-old boy, near the Jewish settlement of Eli. The day after that, an Israeli drone strike killed three Palestinian militants in a car. The military said they fired at an Israeli position near Jenin and carried out attacks on Jewish settlements in the area.
The killing of the four Israelis at Eli sparked waves of reprisals as Israeli militants rampaged through Palestinian towns and villages, setting fire to homes, cars and fields. It also triggered calls from within the Israeli government to launch a major military operation, as well as an effort to increase the settlements with plans for thousands of new homes.
The Palestinian Authority was further weakened in the eyes of many Palestinians due to its inability to protect them against military attacks or settler violence, to defend the occupied land from the growth of the settlements or to offer any diplomatic horizon to a negotiated solution of the Israeli one. -Palestinian conflict, according to analysts.
The interim body formed in the mid-1990s as part of the Oslo peace process is believed to exercise limited autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank and has security forces numbering approximately 60,000 members.
But it is widely seen by Palestinians as a corrupt and inept subcontractor for the Israeli occupation, and it has all but abdicated responsibility for areas such as the Jenin refugee camp, far from its center of power in Ramallah.
Mr Yaar, the former deputy head of the national security council, said that Israel’s incursion, which had stopped the armed groups in Jenin at least partially and temporarily, presented “an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to take back control”.
Palestinian analysts said that was unlikely, even though the main rivals of the Palestinian Authority were in the Israeli cross, because public sentiment was very much on the side of the armed groups in Jenin.
“I think there is overwhelming sympathy and support for those guys who are trying to fight the occupation by whatever means,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst and former Palestinian minister based in Ramallah.
“I think one of the most immediate and obvious results of this Israeli operation – or on our part, the term used is aggression – is a dramatic increase in public support for resistance” against Israel, he said, adding, “One of the victims of it is the Palestinian Authority, which is further marginalized.”
Television images on Wednesday showed angry crowds of Palestinian mourners at the funerals of those killed in Jenin chasing away Palestinian Authority officials who had come to pay their respects.
According to Tamir Hayman, former Israeli military intelligence chief and now the executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, the “tactical excellence” of the operation, which means the quality intelligence and precision of the military in locating and destroying targets, avoided “the need to think about strategy.”
Israeli and Palestinian analysts said the Israeli operation could also prompt revenge attacks such as the shooting of the police vehicle on Wednesday, which was caught on video. A Palestinian drove a vehicle into Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, injuring at least eight, some seriously, before trying to stab some of them and being shot dead by a passerby.
And early Wednesday morning, militants fired five rockets into southern Israel from the coastal enclave of Gaza, run by Hamas, in what analysts described as a sign of solidarity with the West Bank. The rockets were intercepted and caused no casualties.
Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, condemned what they called Israeli aggression in Jenin and called for international intervention. These countries have issued similar condemnations of Israeli actions in the past but have rarely gone beyond statements.
Israeli officials stressed from the beginning that the incursion was never intended to conquer or hold territory in Jenin. Nor was it intended to keep Israeli troops out of Jenin for the long term. Rather, it created conditions in the camp, such as removing roadside bombs, that could facilitate future attacks – at least for a while.