Nadav Argaman, the director of the Shin Bet security service, warned lawmakers Tuesday of growing instability in the West Bank, saying the relative calm in the Palestinian territory was a “deceptive quiet.”
Addressing the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Argaman said the Gaza Strip and West Bank had become “extremely unstable” over the last year, and told lawmakers his agency had foiled hundreds of attacks in that time.
In Gaza, Argaman said Israel was perpetually stuck between “waging a military operation on one hand while trying to stabilize the humanitarian situation on the other.”
But in the West Bank, he told the committee, the “reality is much more complex.”
“On the surface it appears as if there’s relative calm, but this quiet is deceptive, because beneath the surface tensions are increasingly simmering.”
Argaman said Hamas terrorists in the West Bank have been trying “with everything they have” to mobilize operatives to carry out attacks against Israel with guidance from Gaza, Turkey and Lebanon.
The Shin Bet chief said his agency had thwarted 480 terrorist attacks in the last year, arrested 219 Hamas cells, and thwarted some 590 “lone wolf” attackers. He said the Shin Bet had also foiled efforts to spy on Israel and a number of cyber-attacks emanating from the West Bank.
“The large scope of attacks can only indicate the extent of terrorism taking place beneath the surface,” he said.
A wave of mainly lone-wolf Palestinian attacks against Israelis broke out in 2015. The number of attacks has decreased since, but there are fears of another upsurge in violence.
Last month, two Israelis were killed by a Palestinian coworker at a West Bank industrial complex, and recent weeks have seen an increase in attempted stabbing attacks targeting Israeli soldiers.
On Sunday, a Palestinian man from Hebron was shot and injured as he tried to attack an Israeli soldier in Kiryat Arba, outside Hebron. On Monday, a Palestinian woman attempted to stab border police officers at Kfar Adumim in the West Bank. She was shot by security forces at the scene and taken to the hospital for treatment.
Argaman has served as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinian Authority since the US-led peace talks collapsed in 2014. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas have had little contact since then.
Last week, Hadashot TV news reported that Netanyahu has been seeking to renew ties with the PA in recent months, and dispatched Argaman to Ramallah to offer Abbas an economic incentive package.
During their meeting in Ramallah, Argaman told Abbas that Israel was prepared to set up a joint industrial area and open up gas production off the Gaza coast, according to the network, which said the Palestinian leader rebuffed both offers.
The report did not specify when the meeting took place, but said it came amid a series of meetings Argaman held with senior PA officials in recent months in which he stressed the Palestinian economy would benefit if there were renewed contact with Israeli leaders.
Netanyahu’s efforts to reestablish ties with the PA came following warnings of growing instability in the Wast Bank and Gaza from IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
Ties have worsened further since the PA cut ties with the US over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2018, and his decision to move the US embassy there.
Israel and the PA continue to maintain security ties between forces on the ground. Though PA officials have repeatedly threatened to cut these as relations deteriorate, they have so far refrained from doing so.