Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi said Friday the military would step up activities in the northern West Bank after several deadly terrorist attacks involving Palestinians from the Jenin region and officials reportedly believe the Palestinian Authority is in control of the country lose territory.
Speaking to soldiers at the Ofer military base, Kohavi said he believed security challenges would remain for many days to come and hinted at an operation in Jenin.
“If we’re going to clash with the terrorists anyway, I prefer Jenin,” Kohavi said, according to Channel 13. The city is in the northern West Bank near the border with Israel.
Channel 13 said Israel Defense Forces could prepare for an operation in the northern West Bank as early as this weekend.
Earlier Friday, Kohavi ordered the IDF to expand and step up offensive operations in the West Bank, particularly in northern cities where recent terrorists have come from.
Last week, Israeli troops attempted to arrest a team of terrorists en route to an attack. Three members of Islamic Jihad were killed four Israeli soldiers were injured in the ensuing firefight near Jenin.
According to public broadcaster Kan, the Palestinian Authority is being challenged for control of the Jenin area by both the terrorist group Islamic Jihad and members of Fatah, the Palestinian faction allegedly led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli officials want the PA to crack down on terror in the area but fear it will be unable to do so, according to news reports Friday.
Kohavi also ordered the military to step up defensive operations in the “seam zone” border area along the Green Line separating Israel and the West Bank.
Kohavi told soldiers Friday night that terrorist Ra’ad Hazem, who carried out Thursday’s terror shooting in Tel Aviv, entered Israel through a breach in the barrier.
According to Hebrew media reports, officials suspect that Hazem was driven from Jenin through a gap in the fence to the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm and from there took a bus to Tel Aviv to carry out the attack.
The suspect who was driving Hazem was known to security forces, Ynet said.
There are many gaps in the West Bank barrier and the IDF has deployed thousands of troops to the Seam Zone area in recent weeks to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel.
Kohavi told the troops that the attacker should not be able to enter Israel and that it is the IDF’s responsibility to prevent such border crossings.
On Friday, troops foiled an attempt to smuggle an M16 assault rifle and ammunition into Israel from the West Bank near the northern city of Tulkarm.
Channel 12 said security forces were examining the possibility that other people knew about Hazem’s plan to carry out a terrorist attack and did not act to stop it. For now, however, the security establishment believed Hazem was acting alone with a handgun he acquired in the West Bank.
The manhunt, which lasted nearly nine hours, included at least 1,000 police and IDF reinforcements, who combed the area for the attacker. IDF special forces – including units from elite IDF forces Sayeret Matkal and Shaldag – have been dispatched to the city to help with the effort.
Police officials said Friday they were upset by the IDF’s decision to send hundreds of troops onto the streets of Tel Aviv to join the search. Security in Israeli cities is generally the responsibility of the police.
“We did not expect such a large number of soldiers in this incident, nor did we ask for all these forces,” a police source told public broadcaster Kan. “We could have done without the large forces that the military made available.”
Police said the army failed to properly coordinate the response to the shooting, which saw security forces searching streets, residences and alleys, and sometimes raiding buildings where the terrorist was suspected to be hiding.
Police were also upset that soldiers had news reporters accompany them while they conducted the search.
Shooting on Thursday killed three and broke a tense calm that had been in place since March 28, when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire in Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb, killing five people.
Other attacks in Hadera and Beersheba in recent weeks by Arab Israelis, believed to have been inspired by Islamic State, killed six more.
Police and security officials reportedly said Friday there were still several serious warnings of planned terrorist attacks.
According to Channel 12, the alerts are not specific but indicated a general threat of further attacks.
The escalation came amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – often a time of high tension in Israel and the West Bank. Israel has stepped up security measures in response to the attacks, deploying additional forces in the West Bank, on the Gaza Strip border and in major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.