1. Jerusalem car-ramming: Twelve soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, in a suspected car-ramming attack in Jerusalem early this morning.
- The incident took place at the First Station in west Jerusalem, a popular entertainment hub. The soldiers made a stop at the site while on a “heritage tour” of the capital ahead of their swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall.
- The car was later found abandoned in the town of Beit Jala outside Bethlehem, but the driver remains at large and the IDF has launched a manhunt after the attacker.
- Channel 13 reports that the security establishment believes the suspect acted of his own volition and had not planned the attack in advance. Troops are currently focusing their search in the Bethlehem area.
- But less than 10 hours after the suspected ramming, another attack took place in the capital’s eastern section in the Old City. Police say a police officer suffered a minor hand injury after being shot by a Palestinian suspect, who got out of a taxi near the Lions Gate and fired at the cop before being shot while trying to flee. The Kan public broadcaster reports that the adjacent Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound has been subsequently shuttered in a move that could further inflame tensions.
2. Why now? As the search for the suspected car-rammer was getting under way, IDF troops entered the northern West Bank city of Jenin to demolish a home belonging to a man charged with assisting in the terror attack that killed Raziel Shevach in 2018.
- During the razing, riots broke out between the army and Palestinian protesters. A 19-year-old cadet in the PA police academy was shot dead though it was unclear whether he was participating in the riots. The victim, named in Arabic media as Yazan Abu Tabikh, was the second Palestinian killed in 24 hours, after IDF troops shot dead a Palestinian teen the army said was hurling a Molotov cocktail during a riot in Hebron.
- In a separate riot near the demolition site in Jenin, Israeli troops shot another PA police officer who later succumbed to his wounds. PA Jenin Governor Akram Rajoub tells The Times of Israel’s Adam Rasgon that the officer was wearing his uniform and was inside a security headquarters when an Israeli sniper shot him from an elevated location. Footage shared on social media appeared to corroborate the statement. An IDF spokesman says the army is investigating the incident.
הפלסטינים מפרסמים צילומי מצלמת אבטחה מג׳נין הלילה שנראים לא טוב מבחינת צהל. השוטר הפלסטיני נראה עומד עם חבריו כאשר בשנייה ה30 הוא נורה מאש צהל ונפצע בינוני מבלי שנראה שסיכן את כח צהל שנכנס לג׳נין להרס בית המחבל. ארוע בעל פוטנציאל נפיץ לתיאום הבטחוני בשטחים בימים מתוחים אלה. pic.twitter.com/4dTm5Mq5rf
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) February 6, 2020
- With tensions particularly high following the release of the Trump peace plan last week, ToI’s Judah Ari Gross points out that “there are some real questions about timing of the home demolition. While the situation is never perfect in the West Bank, the past week has been decidedly more tense and home demos aren’t really time sensitive.”
- Haaretz’s Yaniv Kupovich says the “the demolition could easily have waited several weeks until things calmed down in the West Bank, but in an election period, security and operational considerations appear to be less relevant.”
- However, ToI’s Avi Issacharoff argues that the IDF decision to enter Jenin is not to blame for the recent uptick in violence. He argues that the real source of the latest problems is the Trump peace plan, which overwhelmingly favored Israel and which no Palestinian leader can be expected to sign.
3. Don’t forget Gaza: Not wanting to be left out of the cycle of violence, armed groups in the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave fired a pair of mortars at Israeli communities in the south in what has become a near daily occurrence over the past week and a half.
- The projectiles landed in open fields, and the IDF carried out retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza shortly thereafter. “We understand that Hamas is letting these things happen in the past few weeks, especially with the [arson] balloons, as well as looking the other way while others fire rockets and mortar shells,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says.
- The launches take place after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with council chairmen of municipalities in the south and assures them that he is prepared to go to war even before elections if the firing at Israeli towns persists.
- In September, Netanyahu made a similar warning that a war could break out before the national vote that month. That threat came shortly after he was pulled offstage in southern Israel during a campaign event due to rocket fire. The scene repeated itself later last year, in December, when the prime minister was similarly rushed to shelter.
- While the participants in the meeting had initially leaked that it was between the prime minister and the leaders of southern municipalities, Ynet later revealed that only members of Likud were invited to the sit-down, sparking the ire of the other mayors, who sent an open letter to Netanyahu demanding that he take action and cease “neglecting” their communities.
- Not a word could be heard from Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett on the matter, who spoke out regularly regarding Israel’s failure to adequately respond to Gaza rocket fire before he became defense minister. Instead, he could be found attacking Ynet on Twitter for one of its headlines in which the news site referred to a Palestinian Molotov cocktail thrower instead of a “terrorist who was trying to kill soldiers.”
- Speaking in his place, Yamina MK Matan Kahane tells Radio 103 FM that Bennett is planning a major Gaza operation. “Whether that is true or just a tactic to deflect growing criticism that the one-time tough talker is not taking seriously the near-daily rocket/mortar attacks and balloon-borne explosives is anyone’s guess,” ToI’s Gross speculates.
4. All not quiet on the northern front: Joining in on an otherwise quiet overnight, Syrian state media reports that Israel launched strikes against several targets near Damascus, triggering the country’s air defense systems.
- “Our air defenses confronted an Israeli attack” west of the capital, said state news agency SANA, adding that the attack was carried out from airspace in the Israeli Golan Heights. They “were able to shoot down most of the enemy missiles before they reached their targets,” SANA said, though defense analysts routinely dismiss such claims by the Syrian regime as empty boasts.
- Twelve pro-Iranian fighters were killed in the strikes, according to a Britain-based monitoring group.
- The IDF’s Zilberman says he was aware of the “foreign reports” about airstrikes in Syria but declined to comment on the matter in accordance with longstanding Israeli policy.
5. Annexation nation? Settler leaders meet with Netanyahu hoping to light a fire under the premier that will convince him to annex at least parts of the West Bank before the March 2 election.
- But Army Radio reports that the Israeli mayors beyond the Green Line left the sit-down convinced that Netanyahu would not buck American pressure to hold off on the move for now.
- The settler leaders asked Netanyahu whether senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who has led US opposition to immediate annexation, has been acting in bad faith. The premier said he did not believe that was the case, but acknowledged that there was an internal disagreement in the White House that was preventing Israel’s annexation plans from moving forward.
- Shas chairman Aryeh Deri tells the radio channel that there is no need to stand next to the government with a timer to ensure that it votes on annexation. “The recklessness on this issue is not wise. We need to allow Netanyahu to coordinate with the Americans,” he says.
- But fellow minister Bezalel Smotrich doesn’t agree, telling Army Radio that the move must be made immediately. “We’re lucky Aryeh Deri wasn’t a cabinet member when Ben Gurion had to decide whether to declare the establishment of Israel,” he snipes.
- Blue and White’s Moshe Ya’alon chimes in, saying that if the US is giving a “red card” on annexation for now, it is important that the Israeli government obey. This, however, is the same Ya’alon who spoke out aggressively against US peace efforts under the Obama administration, calling then-secretary of state John Kerry “messianic.”
6. Bringing back old pals: The Kan public broadcaster reports that former prime minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas are in talks to hold a joint press conference in which the pair would express opposition to the Trump peace plan while urging a restart of talks based on the plan they had been negotiating on in 2008.
- Speaking out in support of the plan, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien tells foreign diplomats that it behooves the Palestinians to accept the deal because while it is not perfect it offers economic benefits that would allow Palestine to become the “Singapore of the Middle East.”
- “This could be the last opportunity for a two-state solution,” O’Brien says. “The Israeli birth rate is strong and is growing because sadly anti-Semitism in Europe and other places around the world is encouraging more Jews to return to Israel. The settlements are going to continue to expand. If this freeze on settlements doesn’t hold.iIf this peace process doesn’t work, it may be physically impossible to have a two-state solution.”
- “It was unusual for a high-level administration official to tie anti-Semitism to the settlements,” AP writes. “But O’Brien’s comments are in line with the Trump administration strongly favoring Israel in the longtime conflict.”