The two-day IDF raid on Jenin, which, unusually, began with the activation of UAV air strikes, was an operational and tactical success but strategically will change nothing as long as Israel’s government remains on its current course.
The decision to send a brigade-sized Israeli military force to deal with a security hot spot in the West Bank is not as new as it might seem; This was done regularly in 2005 (I led operations like it as commander of the Judea and Samaria Division), at the end of the Second Intifada. Ahead of Operation Home and Garden, which took place July 3 and 4, the IDF and Shin Bet diligently collected the needed intelligence and decided to use UAVs to strike targets that were physically difficult to reach in the opening phase of the operation – representing good adjustment of munitions to challenges.
Operationally, the IDF successfully learned from recent past failures and improved its responses to security challenges. Previously, in Jenin and Nablus, IDF operations featuring ordinary infantry units in small numbers produced very high levels of friction with Palestinians, resulting in Palestinian noncombatant deaths and escalating the situation instead of stabilizing it. The IDF Central Command and the Judea and Samaria Division Headquarters concluded that there was a gap in their operational readiness and decided instead to send in the best of Israel’s special forces. As a result of the use of these highly skilled units, trained for this very challenge, there were no noncombatant deaths in the Jenin operation.
The terrorists of Jenin lost their motivation to confront the IDF when it sent its elite units in. Despite the tragic death during the operation of a soldier from the Egoz unit, Sgt. First Class David Yehuda Yitzhak, the elite IDF forces completed their mission of destroying extensive terrorist infrastructures in the city.
Strategically, however, a major gap exists between the sober and responsible approach taken by the heads of Israel’s defense establishment — who understand that there is no silver bullet against terrorism and who seek greater involvement by the Palestinian Authority on the ground — and the Israeli government, which lacks any strategy at best, and which contains elements that have messianic aspirations at worst.
No paradigm shift
While the IDF General Staff and Central Command understand that ‘mowing the lawn’ is necessary on occasion, the political echelon is marketing the operation as a paradigm shift – and in doing so is promoting a baseless claim.
The government in Israel today is paralyzed, and its approach to the West Bank cannot be clearly discerned. In 2020, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the Trump peace plan. The plan’s merits and faults can be debated legitimately, but it is a partition plan that bypasses the painful issue of evacuating settlements and offers the Palestinians land compensation, including land from the Negev that would be annexed to the Gaza Strip.
Today, however, Netanyahu leads a coalition that is making every effort, including by those like Finance Minister and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich, to advance full Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Smotrich adheres to a vision he laid out in 2017, according to which, Israel will exercise full control of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; Palestinians who choose to live under Israeli rule will receive subject status, but not citizenship, those who decide to leave will be encouraged, and those who reject both options will be fought.
Who should we believe when it comes to West Bank policy? Netanyahu or Smotrich?
In all his years in power, Netanyahu has never made a strategic decision on this, the most sensitive of issues. Every day that Israel fails to decide, events on the ground decide for it, and the situation is drifting toward a one-state nightmare. The overall silence in Israel over this state of affairs means that a minority on the far right has been able to force its view on the majority, leading to de facto annexation, fueled by a messianic ideology. Those who believe Israel can annex millions of Palestinians are clueless about Israel’s international reality, dependence on the United States, and need for international trade.
Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad extremists are leading Palestinians to disaster. The result is that in the absence of any change of strategy, the area is heading toward further bloodshed, regardless of how successful the Jenin operation was at the tactical and operative levels.
It was Carl von Clausewitz who said that war is “a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means.” Military achievements are supposed to serve as the basis of political achievements, but if this does not happen, their effects erode quickly.
The deep emotional ties held by Jews to the West Bank, known in Israel as Judea and Samaria, are completely understandable; the region is the cradle of Jewish civilization, and there can be no way to unlink Jews from sites like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, or Shiloh, where the Bible tells us of seminal events in Jewish history. The land historically belongs to the Jewish people. But this cannot translate into a reality in which Israel controls millions of Palestinians, a reality which, if unchanged, will eventually create international pressure that will lead to Israel’s collapse.
Hence, the operation in Jenin should be seen for what it is; the product of a highly competent military and intelligence community, capable of mapping out and dealing with security threats, but no substitute for real and needed strategy on the future of the West Bank.