Following the fatal shooting last week of husband and wife Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were killed by Hamas terrorists when driving home from a holiday gathering while their children were in the backseat, the IDF quickly brought in additional troops to the West Bank.
“We decided to reinforce the area. We brought in somewhere in the neighborhood of four battalions,” the army official said. “The goal is first and foremost to protect the highways and settlements we have here.”
The IDF, as a rule, will not discuss exact numbers of soldiers at the risk of giving away intelligence. However, she said, “you can look up how much a battalion is” — several hundred to a thousand soldiers — “and multiply by about 3.5.”
Though Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have rioted across Israel and the West Bank, the IDF cited previous upticks in violence to demonstrate that calm can still be restored.
“Last year, we had Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Protective Edge,” the official said, “which also brought about a peak, but afterward, we returned to stability.” She was speaking in reference to the IDF operation to locate three missing Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank by a Hamas-affiliated cell — and later found dead — and the subsequent 50-day conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Even more recently, earlier this summer, following an attack by suspected Jewish terrorists on the Dawabsha family in the Palestinian village of Duma, which killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha and his parents, there was also an outburst of violence. We managed to “block that outbreak,” she said.
The central focus of the IDF in the West Bank now, therefore, is “halting this outbreak,” she said.
With more and more attention being given to the escalating violence both domestically and internationally, prevention may be too late.
“There is a lot of fury and there are a lot of statements being made on Facebook,” she said.
However, this can be misleading, she maintained. “A lot fewer people are actually going out to a demonstration. This concept of going out on Friday” — the most common day for Palestinian protests — “and doing something, it is at a much lower level than what is being shown.”
But this is not to say that the IDF is not aware of the rising level of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“In the past week, we are seeing an increase in both the number of ‘flash points’ and in the number of people,” she said.
“With regards to the coming days, it of course depends on what happens, but we have control,” the official said.
The IDF in the West Bank has been even more active than normal. “There have been lots of arrests, lots of weapons seizures. The IDF is operating everywhere, everywhere that it is needed,” she said.
She reiterated, “These things are under control.”
The rise of the individual attacker
One thing has connected all of the recent stabbing and rock throwing attacks against Israelis in recent weeks — the assailants have no real terrorist affiliation.
Though in some cases, Hamas or Islamic Jihad have claimed credit for the attack, the slashers and stone throwers are not a part of a formal terrorist infrastructure.
True, the five terrorists who attacked the Henkin family were members of a Hamas cell.
But Younis Ahmed Vareidat, for example, who stabbed an Israeli man in Petach Tikva Wednesday evening, had no affiliation or criminal background whatsoever, the Shin Bet security service said.
These terrorists, which some call “lone wolves,” are presenting a serious challenge to the IDF and the security forces.
“Something that we’re seeing now — not that it’s something new — is the individual attacker,” the IDF official said. “This isn’t something that has infrastructure so that you can then investigate and get a handle on it.”
With a renewed effort to collect intelligence through additional security cameras and field work, the troop reinforcements in the area and cooperation with Palestinian security forces, the IDF hopes to overcome these challenges, she said.
“You can’t 100 percent promise that nothing will happen, but I can say that we are doing everything that we can,” the official said.
‘Don’t divert the IDF from its goal’
It is not yet clear whether the IDF’s remarks are truly indicative of the current situation or merely a public relations attempt to soothe the spiking unrest by projecting calm.
IDF officials, however, maintained their optimism.
“Around the holidays, there is always an uptick,” the army source said. “But we have seen that there are more stabilizing factors on the ground than destabilizing factors on the ground, that there are more things restraining than inciting.”
Thus far in the West Bank, not counting Jerusalem, she said, there have been two [Israeli] deaths. “Statistics and figures are not everything, but last year there were something like 14 deaths [from terror] and this year, though it’s not yet over, there have only been eight — four of them in Jerusalem.”
Regarding settlers demonstrating and attacking Palestinians, the official reiterated a statement made by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to the West Bank on Tuesday, calling for settlers and right-wing activists to refrain from attacking Palestinians and IDF troops.
“Any action that prevents the IDF from carrying out its central mission — defense and security — is distracting,” she said.
“This is a clear message that has also been delivered to the leaders of the settlements: Don’t divert the IDF from its goal.”