Geopolitics Military Affairs

The Attack on Jenin. The Largest Israeli Military Operation in The West Bank In 20 Years

Katarína Ďurďovičová

On July 3rd, Israel staged one of the largest military operations in the occupied West Bank region since 2002. The ground and air operation against the Palestinian town and refugee camp of Jenin lasted three days, with Israel deploying more than one thousand soldiers, drones as well as air support. This resulted in at least 12 dead and 100 wounded Palestinians and one dead Israeli soldier. The proclaimed aim of the offensive was to clear the camp of Palestinian militant movements, which are supported by Iran with arms supplies. The Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Israel immediately after the Israeli army left, to which Tel Aviv responded by shelling an underground weapons production facility in Gaza.

Why Jenin?

Jenin has long been one of the symbols of Palestinian resistance. For decades, Palestinian militant movements have operated there, and during the second intifada of 2000-2005, it was one of the areas where the worst bloodshed occurred. Subsequently, Jenin witnessed the emergence of a number of suicide bombers who spearheaded the uprising, and Israeli forces later invaded the camp as part of a wider crackdown on regions in which Palestinians exercised limited self-rule under interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s. These experiences fuelled fierce anti-Israeli sentiment in the local population and, to this day, helped maintain high levels of support for Palestinian militant groups operating from the camp against Israel. In the last two years, Jenin has therefore been the target of intense and repeated attacks by Israeli forces, which have intervened against local armed groups such as the Jenin Brigades, established in 2021.

Why now?

Two days before Monday’s raid, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) chief Ziad Nakhaleh declared that the Iran-backed terror group was working to establish combat units throughout the West Bank. The airstrike is, therefore, an Israeli effort to stabilize the growing number of militants in Jenin and their ammunition stockpiles. Israel says the camp is a hub for planning and preparing militant attacks, as well as a safe haven for Hamas or PIJ-funded fighters. In addition, the PIJ is arming the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, which are part of the ruling Palestinian Fatah faction. Israel has also stated that since the beginning of 2023, militants have carried out more than 50 attacks in the Jenin area and that almost half of the population is affiliated either with Hamas or PIJ.

Thirty years after the Oslo peace process, any peaceful coexistence thus seems more distant than ever. The ultra-nationalist Israeli government does not allow any further peace or political talks with Palestine. This may subsequently turn into a weakened and uncontrollable spiral of rising militant groups in the West Bank. Even if the Israeli army were to achieve tactical success in Jenin in tackling the growing refugee camp threat, the outcome in the coming months could only bring further violent unrest and reprisal attacks by Palestinian militants, further escalating the current fragile situation.

The Iranian connection

Iran is actively seeking to strengthen the PIJ in the West Bank in order to escalate tensions with Israel near Jerusalem while providing weapons and financial support. This strategy is part of Tehran’s broader goal to strengthen its influence in the region and use diplomacy to influence various regional actors to its advantage. At the same time, Iran sees strategic advantages in the region in using a relatively small proxy group to orchestrate monthly cycles of low-level conflict with Israel. This allows Iran to evaluate the effectiveness of these conflicts and measure their benefits. The Iranian regime sees that this tactic is yielding positive results. Their ultimate goal is to shift Israel’s attention to the West Bank and divert attention from broader regional issues.

The Regional Effect

Many Middle Eastern countries have already expressed their views on Jenin and condemned Israel for its offensive. However, Israel’s military operation in Jenin may provoke even more condemnation from the international community, as UN experts say the raid may constitute a war crime. Any further escalation in Palestinian-Israeli relations also has the potential to undermine Israel’s efforts to normalise relations with regional actors. Just shortly after the Israeli operation began, reports emerged that Turkey had uncovered and detained members of Mossad, the Israeli spy network, on its territory. Ankara has long been sensitive to Tel Aviv’s handling of the Palestinian issue. A renewed Palestinian-Israeli conflict would have the potential to fundamentally disrupt relations, similar to the Israeli operations in Gaza in 2008-2009. Meanwhile, Turkey and Israel fully resumed diplomatic relations only last year after years of trying to improve relations.

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