Israel should prepare for a possible wave of terror attacks amid growing instability in the West Bank caused by a power struggle in the Palestinian Authority over who will succeed President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate warned on Sunday.
Speaking at a closed conference at Tel Aviv University, Maj-Gen Herzl Halevi said that the next year “would be a year of instability in the Palestinian Authority,” adding that there will be a number of “elements who will challenge Abbas’s leadership [while] Hamas will try to make gains,” according to a report in Haaretz.
“The result will be a very challenging reality in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank],” he said.
Halevi explained that the drop in the number of terror attacks in recent months was due to factors including the high cost of such assaults to the Palestinians and the fact that Israel fights the attackers while avoiding collective punishment of the population.
Halevi was referring to a wave of Palestinian stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks that began last fall and has claimed the lives of 36 Israelis, two Americans and an Eritrean national. According to AFP figures, some 238 Palestinians, a Jordanian and a Sudanese migrant have also been killed, most of them in the course of carrying out attacks, Israel says, and many of the others in clashes with troops in the West Bank and at the Gaza border, as well as in Israeli airstrikes in the Strip.
Over the past week, Israel has also suffered from a wave of wildfires, some of which were deliberately set, according to security officials. The fires began last Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes and damaging or destroying thousands of residences, businesses and vehicles. Some in the security and political establishment warned of a new kind of terrorism, or an “arson intifada”, while others said that terming it such was an exaggeration. Over 30 people, the majority of them Palestinians with a small minority of Israeli Arabs, have been questioned in connection with the suspected cases of arson and 24 of them remained in custody as of Sunday.
In his talk, Halevi said that Israel would “find a way to deal with the fires, but then there will be new inventions; it will come in waves and we need to be prepared.”
Turning to developments in the rest of the Middle East, Halevi argued that there was much to be optimistic about vis-a-vis Israeli relations with regional countries, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He said that Israel and “the Sunni countries have common interests; what we do with [these ties] is another question, but this is Israel’s biggest opportunity in the coming years.”
Halevi warned, however, of a “process of religious extremism” in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Haaretz report said.
Despite the reconciliation deal signed with Israel earlier this year and the rapprochement after six years of acrimonious ties, Halevi said that Israel must be cautious and “play hard to get and move forward slowly.”
Halevi anticipated that Iran’s Hassan Rouhani would retain the presidency in elections in May 2017.
On the raging civil war in Syria, Halevi said that there was no end in sight and that while it was possible that an agreement of some kind would be reached, the chances of implementing it were “very low.”
Halevi also said that while the Islamic State terror group was weakening and its so-called caliphate was shrinking, this also meant Iran and its Lebanese proxy, terror group Hezbollah, were making gains and that this would not be good for Israel. Acknowledging that Islamic State was suffering due to the high casualty rate among its members fighting in the war and the financial difficulties it faces, Halevi said that it was “building up its forces” and gaining strength in some respect. “Israel must stay prepared,” he said.