Top military intel officer: West Bank violence only going to get worse

Brig. Gen. Amit Saar says foundations allowing Israel to manage conflict are ‘faltering’ amid young Palestinians’ growing anger; believes Iranian regime will survive protests

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: Gunmen fire on Israeli forces during a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, May 13, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Illustrative: Gunmen fire on Israeli forces during a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, May 13, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

A top Israeli intelligence official said Monday he believed the escalating situation in the West Bank would only get worse in the coming year and that Israel was not  merely facing a “wave of terror,” as many officials have described it.

The head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Research Department, Brig. Gen. Amit Saar, said the rising violence in the West Bank will be Israel’s second most challenging issue in 2023, after Iran.

Speaking at a conference hosted by Gazit, a military think tank, Saar said: “People can say nothing has changed… the terror is seasonal, every few years we have a wave and afterward it calms down and comes back. There are people in the security establishment who believe this to be the case, but I think otherwise.

“I think we need to examine what we have seen in recent months — not through the [prism of the] number of attacks, but the causes,” he said.

“We are seeing the foundations that allowed us to manage the conflict beginning to falter. We are far from being able to solve the conflict, but there were foundations allowing us to manage the conflict at a relatively low cost for years,” Saar said.

“These foundations in the past year, and heading into 2023, are going to become unstable,” he said.

Saar said the Palestinian Authority has lost its legitimacy with young Palestinians, and there is easy access to firearms in the West Bank, enabling repeated shooting attacks. The IDF has recorded at least 281 shooting attacks and attempts against Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank this year, compared to 91 last year.

Brig. Gen. Amit Saar, head of the Military Intelligence research department, speaks at a Gazit conference in Tel Aviv, December 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“I see young people who get up at 4 a.m. just to throw stones at IDF armored vehicles entering the village. It’s alarming to think how much anger is needed for this,” he said.

“They lash out at everything — the PA, Hamas, the [other] organized groups. They are angry and exposed to weapons and incitement. They want to make their own ‘story’ and put it on TikTok,” he said.

“It’s much more complicated to deal with,” Saar added.

Israeli troops have repeatedly come under fire during arrest raids in the West Bank over the past year, mostly in the cities of Nablus and Jenin, but also in other areas.

According to the IDF, the army has arrested more than 2,500 terror suspects in the West Bank since late March, following a series of deadly attacks on Israelis. The attacks have left 31 people in Israel and the West Bank dead since the start of the year, including several soldiers.

During the operations, around 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, according to the Palestinian Authority. The IDF says many of them — though not all — were killed while carrying out attacks or during the fierce clashes with security forces amid the near-nightly raids.

Protests a real challenge to Iran, but regime will survive

Saar separately said during the conference he believed the Iranian regime would survive the ongoing protests that have swept the country.

Iranians protest the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, October 27, 2022. (This photo was taken by an individual not employed by The Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran)

Saar acknowledged that the protests, sparked by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, after her arrest by morality police in Tehran in September, are different from previous protests against the regime.

Saar said they have lasted longer than expected — now nearly three months — and have been exceptionally violent.

“The 2009 protests were because of politics, the 2019 protests were over the economy, but in 2022 they are over the very essence of the regime,” Saar said. “The protesters aren’t shouting ‘Change the hijab law,’ they are shouting ‘Down with the regime.”

Still, he said, “The oppressive Iranian regime will likely manage to survive these protests. It has built very very strong tools for dealing with such protests.

“But I think that even if these protests wane, the reasons [for them] will remain and the Iranian regime will have a problem for years to come,” Saar added.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights organization on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been killed by Iranian security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.

At least 36 security forces have also been killed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the months-long unrest.

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