At around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, the last Israeli troops left the northern West Bank city of Jenin following a two-day-long incursion targeting small terror groups in the city’s restive refugee camp.
The Israel Defense Forces had set itself clear goals when it launched what it defined as a “brigade-level raid,” rather than an operation, early on Monday morning: Ending the way Palestinian terrorists view the Jenin refugee camp as a “city of refuge” and enabling Israeli troops more “freedom of action” when conducting future raids in the West Bank city.
Internally, the military has referred to the operation by name, calling it “Bayit Vagan,” literally Home and Garden, a reference to Jenin’s biblical name, and the term had been used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well. But the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit insisted that the operation had no official name, in an attempt to downplay the scale of the raid and not draw comparisons to much more extensive Israeli operations in the West Bank.
The IDF will indeed return to Jenin soon. Senior army officials throughout the campaign said that the military activity between Monday and Wednesday was only the first step in a series of operations to crack down on what the IDF says is a hotbed of terror in the city and its environs. A number of attacks on Israelis in recent years have been carried out by Palestinians from the area, and observers say the Palestinian Authority has little control on the ground.
According to the IDF, since last year, some 50 shooting attacks were carried out by residents of the area, and 19 wanted Palestinians escaped to Jenin to seek refuge from Israeli forces.
The IDF operation focused on a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group known as the Jenin Battalion, as well as other smaller armed groups in the city and refugee camp. Those groups had shown fierce resistance to Israeli raids over the past year, highlighted by a massive roadside bomb detonated against an army vehicle last month, wounding seven soldiers.
But during the operation this week, the Palestinian gunmen barely showed up for the fight.
IDF officials said that most of the 300 or so gunmen estimated in the Jenin refugee camp had fled the area, allowing the army to locate and destroy their infrastructure with few clashes.
The IDF said troops questioned over 300 Palestinian suspects in Jenin, though only 30 of them were taken in for additional questioning.
During the campaign, involving over 1,000 troops, IDF said forces located and demolished at least eight weapon storage sites, six explosives labs with hundreds of primed devices, three war rooms used by Palestinian gunmen to observe Israeli forces, and other “terror infrastructure.”
Army bulldozers ripped up several roads in the camp to expose areas where there was intelligence pointing to possible improvised explosive devices, as a lesson learned from the large bomb that wounded soldiers last month.
The IDF said it also seized at least 24 assault rifles, 8 handguns and dozens of bullets, a drop in the ocean when considering the large number of weapons estimated in the hands of Palestinians in Jenin.
The IDF has estimated that it killed at least 18 Palestinian gunmen during the raid, several of them during opening airstrikes targeting a joint war room shared by various armed groups in the city.
Palestinian health officials said 12 people were killed, and at least 100 others were wounded, including 20 listed in serious condition, during the Israeli airstrikes and in clashes with Israeli forces.
According to the IDF, all of the slain Palestinians were involved in the fighting, but there were some noncombatants among the wounded.
One soldier was killed as troops were beginning to withdraw from Jenin late Tuesday, although the IDF suspects he may have been killed by so-called “friendly fire.”
The operation this week was not intended as any kind of magic bullet for Palestinian terrorism in the northern West Bank, but rather, it aimed to be the start of a restoration of Israeli deterrence against Palestinian gunmen who have become increasingly brazen with their attacks.
The military hopes that it will be able to enter Jenin for the “usual” counterterrorism raids that it has been conducting, with much smaller numbers of forces, without facing the fierce resistance it had seen over the past year.
While the Palestinian gunmen did not put up a major fight during the operation this week, one of the largest in the West Bank in some 20 years, its practical impact will only be known when the army conducts its next raid in Jenin, which may occur within days.
“There is a series of operations here,” the chief of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, told reporters on Monday. “Just like we were here a week ago and two weeks ago, we will finish this operation, and we will come back in a few days or a week, and we will not allow this city of refuge for terror.”
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