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The return of the IED to the occupied West Bank

August 29, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Israeli forces block roads after an explosive device detonated in the West Bank on 23 August 2019 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

After many years, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has returned to the occupied West Bank. This is despite all of the efforts made by the Israeli and Palestinian security agencies cooperating to thwart any armed Palestinian group that would use such weapons.

The Dolev settlement operation, near Ramallah, on 23 August, involved the remote detonation of an IED near an Israeli settler’s car. The explosion killed a teenage girl and wounded two other settlers. Those responsible escaped without leaving any traceable evidence. Senior Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officers have visited the scene to assess the impact, including the Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi.

Israeli security, military and political circles are very concerned about the Dolev operation; they believe that an armed Palestinian cell was behind it. It is possible, they surmise, that Hamas has established a military infrastructure in the West Bank, and fear that the IED attack is the beginning of a new phase by resistance groups.

It has been clear since the beginning of the year that the West Bank is on a knife edge, with a series of armed operations and guerrilla-style attacks targeting Israel’s occupation forces and illegal settlers. Incidents have included stabbings, hit and runs, attempts to capture soldiers and throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at soldiers and settlers; and there have been casualties. The operations were mostly carried out by individuals, which prompted Israeli intelligence officials to describe those responsible to date as lone wolves.

However, Dolev was different, in terms of effectiveness and in being unprecedented for many years. Israeli investigations confirm that the IED was buried in the road and exploded when the target vehicle was about to enter the settlement. Investigators believe that more than one person was responsible, and that those involved must have known the road well and were aware of the level of security at the site, allowing them to get away unscathed. At least one member of the cell may be a local resident. It is now feared that copycat operations may follow, or that the cell responsible has already planted IEDs across the West Bank just waiting to be detonated.

The timing of the IED attack at the Dolev settlement was no doubt significant. Israel is in the early days of a General Election campaign, and this will have an impact on right-wing propaganda, especially that produced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

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Palestinian Authority and Israeli security services have revealed that since last year at least 12 large IEDs have been planted on West Bank roads and detonated remotely. Forensic evidence makes it clear that a well-trained cell planted them and chose good locations for their use, ensuring that the timing of IDF patrols was known in advance. The Israelis know that they are facing accurate attacks that require advance planning, as well as training and testing.

While security officers are scanning CCTV footage, the IDF has intensified its presence in the occupied West Bank; increased the number of its large-scale raids; erected additional checkpoints; and put more pressure on the Palestinian population, which may cause the cell to make a mistake that will lead the security forces to its location.

Israeli forces block roads after an explosive device detonated in the West Bank on 23 August 2019 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Ambulance services arrive after an explosive device detonated in the West Bank on 23 August 2019 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

There are several signs suggesting Hamas’ role in the Dolev operation, the most obvious of which is the campaign to arrest its officials and members, as well as the detection of its armed groups deployed in several areas of the West Bank. The PA has also seized weapons and explosive materials, including rocket-propelled grenades and explosive belts, from the movement’s armed cells. This has coincided with Hamas media encouragement for such attacks to take place. While most of the people carrying out operations in the West Bank are apparently associated with the movement, Dolev was very complex and not an ordinary operation; it was carried out, it seems, by experts.

While the West Bank is like a ticking bomb that always surprises the Israeli occupation authorities, what happened outside the Dolev settlement means that we are seeing a qualitative development in the performance of resistance groups in the West Bank. The Israeli response will be to intensify its intelligence operations and strengthen its cooperation with the PA.

The use of IEDs not only produces significant results on the ground, but also exhausts and depletes the capabilities of the occupation forces. It is difficult for Israel to sustain its high level of alert because, since 2014, resistance operations in the West Bank have been frequent, with at least one deadly operation a month. Since the use of IEDs is considered to be a major development, it confirms that the West Bank is far from calm, and more operations are predicted.

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While Israel has not yet accused Hamas specifically of carrying out the Dolev operation, it has recently discovered a West Bank cell working according to instructions received from the Gaza Strip. Hamas members in the West Bank have been trained to assemble and operate nail bombs and similar IED devices by engineers in the Gaza Strip via the Internet and WhatsApp. It is believed that the Hamas military wing in Gaza has tried to send one of its experts to the West Bank to produce IEDs in preparation for a new wave of attacks.

Israel is discussing its failures over Dolev. The success of the attack is regarded as an operational failure by the IDF, in particular; it took place, remember, in the heart of an area under complete Israeli security and military control.

The resistance operation at the Dolev settlement was not part of a spontaneous wave of Palestinian attacks carried out by individuals; it indicates the presence of a network of local cells, a number of which are associated with organisations and movements, all working with the encouragement of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. With increasing tension in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the residents of the occupied West Bank, Palestinians and illegal Israeli settlers alike, expect to see more operations in the near future.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.