Monday, September 19, 2016

A tale of two fronts - Yoav Limor

by Yoav Limor

-- each terrorist learned of his predecessor's actions and sought to emulate them -- the goal is now to break the chain.

The security incidents that occurred over the weekend in the West Bank and the north have nothing to do with the one another, aside from occurring on the same day. While the chances of an escalation in the north are slim, Judea and Samaria will be the focus of a special effort to prevent a renewed wave of terror on the eve of the holiday season.

In recent months, the IDF and Shin Bet security agency have been able to stunt the Palestinian terror wave through a variety of measures (offensive, defensive, intelligence gathering and dissemination, together with increased action from the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus), and recent months have been relatively calm. With that, it was always believed that this calm was tentative and that combustible factors on the ground could still reignite a conflagration, such as local elections in the PA, the speech PA President Mahmoud Abbas intends to deliver at the U.N. General Assembly, and of course the large number of worshippers expected to visit the Temple Mount over the holidays.

Against this backdrop, the decision was made to deploy two additional IDF battalions to Judea and Samaria over the upcoming holidays. The string of terrorist attacks over the weekend, however, expedited the planned reinforcement, and one of these battalions was already dispatched on Saturday in an effort to help ease the tense situation. Due to assessments that the recent wave of terror has consisted of "inspired" attacks -- in other words each terrorist learned of his predecessor's actions and sought to emulate them -- the goal is now to break the chain. As such, the IDF is amplifying pressure in the Hebron sector, primarily around the village of Bani Naim, the home of the terrorists who perpetrated the car-ramming attack at Elias Junction on Friday. 

We must hope these steps can calm matters, but there is room for skepticism. Throughout the ebb and flow of this terror wave, the fundamental facts have not changed, particularly in relation to the poor economic situation in the West Bank, diplomatic stagnation and ongoing incitement on the Palestinian street. Along with these factors, the ever-combustible holiday season already brings considerable potential for an escalation -- in which Israeli and PA officials do not have an interest.

In the north, meanwhile, chances of an escalation are far smaller, if any. While Israel is concerned over the ongoing errant fire from Syria and is sending the message that it will not be tolerated, the concern stems more from the possibility of random Israeli civilian casualties and less from the possibility of becoming entangled in an unplanned tailspin. No one on the Israeli side doubts that despite the Syrian army's involvement in the shooting, it has occurred within the framework of its efforts to regain territory seized by the rebels, not to establish a new balance of deterrence with Israel.

While the firing of anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli jets last week was meant as a signal to Israel, it was done carefully and measuredly so as to avoid sparking an escalation. At this time, Syria recognizes Israel's military superiority and is taking pains not to provoke it. This balance will shift only if President Bashar Assad's forces succeed in regaining effective control over most of Syria. Until that happens (and it might not), the regime will continue flinging wild accusations at Israel, as it did Saturday after an attack that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers in the country's east. In this particular case, Israel was able to easily disprove the false claims, but it must remain cautious into the future to avoid any unwanted involvement in that country's bloody war.

Yoav Limor


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