HEBRON, West Bank — Speaking from the scene of a deadly shooting attack near the southern West Bank city of Hebron Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the ongoing terror wave was being directed by Iran.
“We are in the midst of a terrorist onslaught that is being encouraged, directed, and financed by Iran and its proxies,” Netanyahu said.
“The most significant change on the ground is related to Iranian financing and intent,” Gallant added.
“Iran is looking for any way to harm the citizens of Israel. We will take various actions that will restore security to the citizens of Israel,” Gallant said, adding that “all options are on the table.”
Netanyahu said Israel was working “around the clock” to catch “the murderers and all those who try to murder Israeli citizens,” and stated that he gives his “full support to all the commanders and soldiers who work day and night to protect us all. We all must support them.”
He said Israel would use “additional means to even the score with the murderers and those who send them, near and far.”
Speaking earlier, the head of the military’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, said that Israel was in the middle of a major terror wave, following the day’s deadly shooting and in the wake of another deadly attack over the weekend.
“We are in the midst of an escalation, a terror wave, the likes of which we have not seen in a long time,” Fox told reporters at the military’s Judea Regional Brigade headquarters near Hebron. “The IDF and security forces are operating daily in every region to foil terror.”
Palestinian shooting, stabbing, and car-ramming attacks in Israel and the West Bank have left 29 people dead and several others seriously wounded since the beginning of the year. Also this year, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip killed two people during a round of hostilities in May, and an attack by an Egyptian policeman on the border in June left three soldiers dead.
Last year, 27 Israeli civilians and foreigners were killed in terror attacks committed by Palestinian or Arab Israeli terrorists in Israel or the West Bank. Another three soldiers were killed in attacks directed against troops, and one police commando was killed during clashes with Palestinian gunmen in a West Bank operation.
“We are trying to get ahead of the enemy and thwart [their plans]. Most of the time we succeed. Today, and this week, we didn’t,” Fox said, referring to Monday’s deadly attack near Hebron and the killing of an Israeli father and son in Huwara on Saturday.
“We will chase down our enemies in Huwara and Hebron and in any other place,” he said. “We will learn from the incidents, investigate, and draw lessons,” he added.
Responding to a question by The Times of Israel regarding fears that the ongoing terror wave, which has mostly centered on the northern West Bank, is spreading to its south, Fox said that the military had foiled numerous attacks in the Hebron area already.
“It is true that most of the overt terror in the recent period has been in the Samaria area,” Fox said, referring to the northern West Bank by its biblical name. “But here too, we have foiled dozens of attacks, if not more, including terror cells in the Judea region [in the southern West Bank].”
“I very much hope we can improve the situation in northern Samaria too, and in Judea, and foil terror before it is carried out,” he added.
Meanwhile, in response to the two recent deadly terror attacks, right-wing settler activists launched a new social media campaign calling on the government to fire Fox.
A poster circulating online called to “fire Fox immediately,” with a picture of the general surrounded by 24 recent terror victims.
כמעט כל אלוף פיקוד מרכז מצא את עצמו בקו האש, אבל במקרה של יהודה פוקס נראה שנחצים כל הגבולות. אסור להסתפק בגינויים של השר והרמטכ״ל: הגינויים צריכים להישמע ובהקדם מראש הממשלה וההנהגה הפוליטית של המתנחלים pic.twitter.com/X7TrxLlJo8
— יוסי יהושוע – Yossi Yehoshua (@YehoshuaYosi) August 21, 2023
Activists hold Fox responsible for the recent wave of terror attacks, accusing him of not cracking down on Palestinians. The criticism has also been echoed in recent days by several right-wing politicians in the coalition.
Responding to the campaign and criticism by lawmakers, Fox told reporters that he was not taking it personally. “Nothing is personal. I’ve been wearing a uniform for the last 35 years, and with me are tens of thousands of others in the IDF and security forces, working to defend the citizens of Israel,” he said.
“I’ve been a public servant for 35 years, and I will continue to be as long as I believe I can handle the challenges and provide security for the citizens of Israel, for everyone — even for those who do not like [me],” Fox added.
Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank, came to Fox’s defense and said these calls were harmful. “Maj. Gen. Fox, along with thousands of regular and reserve soldiers — has led arrest operations every day and every night for the past two years. Hundreds of terrorists were killed and seriously wounded, and the area is flooded with dozens of reserve battalions. The general and his commanders are in the field and there is no one who can dispute the endless efforts of the IDF — from the chief of staff to the last private — to try and maintain our security in Judea and Samaria and the security of all the citizens of Israel,” he said, according to news and entertainment site Srugim.
“This is the time to stand together against the enemy, to convey a clear and determined message that we will not move from this area, and that we are confident that the army knows the work and can meet the difficult challenge that stands before it head-on,” he added.
Heads of the IDF’s Central Command have repeatedly come under fire by some settler groups over the years for what they felt was insufficient action against security threats or egregious action against illegal Jewish settlements.
Earlier Monday, 42-year-old Batsheva Nigri was shot dead, and 40-year-old Aryeh Leib was seriously hurt after Palestinian gunmen opened fire at their vehicle near Hebron. Nigri’s 12-year-old daughter was in the car during the attack, but was unharmed, MDA said.
The Nigris had been hitching a ride with Leib, who had also been heading to the Jerusalem area from the southern West Bank.
The vehicle was hit by at least 22 rounds, with another three bullet impacts found nearby, according to the military’s initial investigation.
IDF soldiers at a nearby post heard gunfire, but did not immediately identify that an attack had occurred. By the time troops reached the scene, the terrorists had fled, according to the preliminary probe.
The IDF said it had launched a manhunt for the terrorists and closed off a number of roads in the area. The military encircled Hebron and was questioning Palestinians entering and leaving the city.
The IDF was given a description of the suspected vehicle used by the gunmen to carry out the terror attack. The vehicle had no license plates and was believed to have fled toward the Hebron area. Security forces later found a burnt-out vehicle near the Palestinian town of Halhul that apparently matched the description of the terrorists’ car.
The attack near Hebron came two days after a Palestinian terrorist killed two Israeli men, a father and son, while they were doing errands in the northern West Bank town of Huwara. Shay Silas Nigreker, 60, and his 28-year-old son Aviad Nir were shot to death at a carwash on Saturday afternoon.
The IDF said Monday it was bolstering forces in the West Bank with an additional infantry battalion and two companies, following the two recent deadly terror attacks.
The military said the additional forces would assist in the manhunts for the terrorists who carried out the attack near Hebron on Monday and the shooting in Huwara on Saturday.
Typically, the IDF’s West Bank division has 13 battalions. Over the past 18 months, that number has fluctuated, given the increase in Palestinian terror attacks, reaching a high of 26 battalions in October 2022. Following Monday’s deployment, there will be 23 battalions in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a Palestinian man was critically wounded after being shot by a member of Yamas — the Border Police’s elite undercover counterterrorism unit — in the West Bank town of Beita, close to Huwara.
In a graphic video circulated by Palestinian media outlets, a seemingly unarmed man was seen being shot while walking away from the Israeli forces.
Palestinian media reports claimed that the man, named as Ameed al-Jaghoub, had died of his wounds, but the Palestinian Authority health ministry said his condition was critical.
A Border Police spokesman told The Times of Israel that while officers had operated in Beita to detain a wanted Palestinian man, a “violent riot developed.”
During the riot, which “greatly endangered the lives of the troops,” Palestinians hurled cinderblocks and stones at the Yamas officers, the spokesman said.
— Newpress | نيو برس (@NewpressPs) August 21, 2023
The spokesman said officers used various riot dispersal means against the Palestinians, and resorted to using live fire, including with “Ruger” sniper rifles, as the riots increased.
The .22-caliber round from a Ruger rifle is considered less lethal than the larger caliber rounds typically used by the military. Human rights groups have condemned the use of the rifle for riot control, however, as it can still kill. Troops typically fire the Ruger rifle at the lower body of rioters, rather than at the head, which can be deadly.
“The circumstances of the incident are under investigation,” the spokesman said regarding the video.
Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.
According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 173 West Bank Palestinians have also been killed since the beginning of the year — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.
Also Monday, hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip rioted along the Israeli border.
مباشر حشود وصلت الجدار الفاصل في مخيم العودة شرق مدينة غزة pic.twitter.com/3KNEshME6I
— حسن اصليح | Hassan (@hassaneslayeh) August 21, 2023
A spokesperson for the IDF told The Times of Israel that the rioters hurled a number of explosive devices, and several attempted to break through the security barrier.
IDF forces detained a number of Palestinians in the area and handed them over to the Shin Bet security agency for questioning, the spokesperson added.
The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip said 18 people were wounded by Israeli fire during the rioting.