As he paid a visit to troops wounded during an army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday warned that “all options are on the table,” in an apparent reference to a potential larger operation in the area.
Six Palestinians were killed and nearly 100 were wounded in the gun battles in Jenin on Monday morning, the most violent in the city since an Israeli army raid in January. Eight soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces sustained light-to-moderate injuries in the clashes and as a result of a massive roadside bomb that was detonated against an army vehicle.
In a statement to journalists from Rambam hospital in Haifa, Gallant said he had “instructed the defense establishment to take proactive and offensive actions, wherever there is a danger to the lives of our citizens and our forces.”
“We will act in any necessary way and reach anywhere in order to preserve our freedom of action. All options are on the table,” he said.
Several senior coalition lawmakers have called for the IDF to carry out a wider military offensive in the northern West Bank.
During the operation in Jenin on Monday, an Apache helicopter launched missiles at an area where gunmen were identified in order to allow for the evacuation of the wounded troops from the area to hospitals in Israel.
The strikes marked the first in the West Bank in some two decades. In the early 2000s, during the Second Intifada, the IDF used attack helicopters in the West Bank, but only in special circumstances and not as a matter of routine.
The military said Palestinian gunmen had opened fire at the Apache helicopter, causing minor damage to the tail rotor, whereupon a malfunction forced the chopper to land in a field in northern Israel. The impacts, however, did not prevent the chopper from carrying out the strikes. The IDF said the landing was not considered an emergency landing, and it would be flown back to its usual base once the issue was fixed.
The IDF had initially entered Jenin to detain two wanted Palestinians. On the way out, the roadside bomb caused heavy damage to an armored IDF vehicle, and the military spent hours in the city working to tow it out.
The Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group claimed responsibility for the bombing, and said three of the Palestinians killed in the clashes were members.
Local wing of Islamic Jihad in Jenin publishes a video of the roadside bomb that targeted an IDF armoured vehicle earlier today. The army vehicle is lifted into the air, shows just how powerful the explosive device was. pic.twitter.com/ulmiJo187n
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) June 19, 2023
The Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday that the Israeli defense establishment believed there was a significant level of Iranian influence and funding for Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank, especially in light of the roadside bomb.
The assessment stemmed from the “unusual characteristics” of the bombing, which included placing the explosive device in a strategic location and detonating it when the convoy of army vehicles passed by, the report said.
According to Kan, Israel’s defense establishment believes Iran aims to turn the northern West Bank into a battle zone similar to Gaza or Lebanon, and deter future Israeli operations.
Last week, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei boasted on Twitter about Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.
“Islamic Jihad [and] other Palestinian resistance movements have found the main key to fighting the Zionist regime. The continually growing authority of resistance groups in the West Bank is the key to bringing the Zionist enemy to its knees, [and] this course must be continued,” Khamenei said.
The US, meanwhile, urged a deescalation following the deadly battle as well as two separate violent incidents that occurred later in the day, including an alleged car-ramming attack against Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian shot dead after hurling a firebomb at troops.
“The US urges deescalation between Israel and the Palestinians. Violence over the last day has left many Palestinians killed and resulted in injuries among Palestinians and the IDF, including in Jenin. We call on both sides to refrain from actions that escalate tensions,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been elevated for the past year, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.
Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have killed 20 people and left several more seriously hurt.
According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 124 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during that span, most of them during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.