Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar said on Sunday that his security agency has foiled more than 300 “significant” terror attacks so far this year, as the Israeli military has ramped up operations in the West Bank under its direction.
“We foiled 312 significant terrorist attacks, stabbings, shootings, suicide attacks, and have made 2,110 arrests” since the beginning of the year, Bar said at a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University.
At the same time, Bar cited a massive increase in shooting attacks against troops and civilians in the West Bank — 130 this year so far, compared to just 98 in 2021, and 19 in 2020.
Bar said Israel is required to boost its activity in the West Bank to foil further attacks, and that troops operating there are “a protective blanket” for Israeli citizens.
But he added that such operations come at a cost to Palestinians, with innocent people harmed and the status of the Palestinian Authority further declining among the local population.
To calm the tensions, Bar said the PA’s security services must be strengthened. “The Palestinian public wants this too, but it takes two to tango,” he said.
Last week, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kohavi slammed the PA for its inability to govern areas in the northern West Bank, where troops have repeatedly come under gunfire during nightly raids.
The IDF ramped up its raids in the West Bank after a series of deadly attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.
Internal discord encouraging terrorism
Bar also noted that Israel’s lack of political stability in recent years and increasing internal discord have encouraged terror groups and individuals to commit attacks.
“From the intelligence that we have read, from the investigations of attackers we have conducted, and also from many years of familiarity with our adversaries, wherever they are, we can say today without a shadow of a doubt, the political instability, the growing internal division… are an encouragement to the axis of evil, to the terror organizations and individual attackers,” Bar said.
He said the “deep rift that is developing within Israeli society” is the “most complex” challenge it is facing.
Iran is Middle East’s ‘underlying problem’
Turning to Iran, Bar said the Islamic Republic was an “underlying problem” in the Middle East.
“Iran’s influence is evident in the terror arena wherever it is, in the countries [surrounding Israel], in the Palestinian arena, in Israel, and in cyberspace,” he said.
“Iran is the origin of most of the [terror] phenomena in the region and it also has a significant part in the instability we are experiencing in the Palestinian arena,” Bar added, referring to escalating violence in the West Bank and the recent round of fighting in the Gaza Strip.
“Iran is not just a nuclear problem, it is the underlying problem of the Middle East,” he added, alluding to ongoing Iranian funding and ideological support for Palestinian terror groups.
Speaking earlier at the same conference, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said he believes that the tensions in the West Bank are as big of a threat to Israel as Iran and its terror proxies.
“Obviously, Iran and its proxies are a fundamental [threat], and [US President Joe] Biden has said we will not stand by and allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said.
“But equally as important is what is going on in the West Bank. I try to keep the vision of the two-state solution alive. I fundamentally believe that to keep Israel a democratic state, we need a two-state solution. I want to change the situation on the ground to make that possible, to keep that vision alive,” according to Nides.
“It is important for us not to lose sight of what could happen if the Palestinian situation gets worse, especially in the West Bank,” he added.