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Analysis

West Bank killing: Pre-planned or opportunistic?

IDF-PA security cooperation has prevented several recent attacks, but the area of Friday’s shooting is a hotbed of Hamas support

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Israeli security officials stand near the car belonging to Israeli victims of an attack by a Palestinian terrorist near the Dolev settlement in the West Bank on June 19, 2015. (Flash90)
Israeli security officials stand near the car belonging to Israeli victims of an attack by a Palestinian terrorist near the Dolev settlement in the West Bank on June 19, 2015. (Flash90)

Two days after the attack in which Danny Gonen was shot dead near the West Bank settlement of Dolev, Israeli security forces Sunday still seemed to have no leads.

The manner in which the assailant carried out his attack — a lone gunman with a handgun — indicates that it might have been the work of an opportunistic young Palestinian who knew the area and was able to make a quick getaway. He might have also been aware that Israelis frequent the area on weekends to go swimming and hiking. Getting a weapon would not have been difficult.

But other questions arise. Did he expect an Israeli vehicle to venture so far off the main highway to the isolated spot where the shooting took place? Was there an organizational infrastructure behind the attack?

There has been a claim of responsibility, though such claims have been used to hinder investigations in the past (such as when last year’s kidnapping and killing of three teens near Alon Shvut was falsely claimed by an Islamic State-affiliated group).

Danny Gonen, 25, from Lod, who was killed Friday, June 19, 2015 in a shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev by a Palestinian gunman (Facebook)
Danny Gonen, 25, from Lod, who was killed Friday, June 19, 2015, in a shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev by a Palestinian gunman (Facebook)

The shooting attack took place on the first day of Ramadan, immediately after Israel announced it would ease travel restrictions on the local population for the holiday. It does not seem as though the goal of the attack was to create a crisis between the Israel and the Palestinian Authority by getting those travel restrictions reimposed, as this is not the sort of attack that would convince Israeli security forces they needed to change tactics or to close roads and impose travel restrictions.

Additionally, cooperation between Israel and the PA on the security level has been exceptionally strong in recent weeks, with the Shin Bet security service and Palestinian intelligence successfully maintaining relative calm in the West Bank, weakening terrorist infrastructure and undermining Hamas’s presence in the territory.

Yet, Hamas has not given up. Saleh al-Arouri, the group’s bureau chief in Turkey, has tried time and again to extend the long, murderous arm of the organization into the West Bank, an area he considers his backyard.

Hamas operative Saleh al-Aruri (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)
Hamas operative Saleh al-Aruri (YouTube screenshot)

Al-Arouri, a native of Kfar Aroura just north of the site of Friday’s killing, has no shortage of contacts in the area and his involvement cannot be easily discounted.

The villages northwest of Ramallah are a hotbed of support for terrorist groups. Hamas and Islamic Jihad banners fly throughout the area, indicating at least a political presence in the region, if not a military one.

Whether he was involved in this killing, figures like Al-Arouri are busy trying to carry out attacks in the West Bank, even though Hamas has its hands full keeping control in Gaza.

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