Major Incidents in Palestine, February 2018
The number of incidents remained relatively similar to the previous month with minor changes: compared to January, February witnessed a decrease in clashes of about 5% as well as a decline of 14.7 % in the number of reported military operations while arrest operations increased by 19%.
Ariel stabbing attack
On Feb. 5th, an Israeli settler was pronounced dead in a hospital after succumbing to wounds sustained in a stabbing attack near the settlement of Ari’el 2.68 km N Salfit while waiting for a bus. According to reports, the suspected attacker is believed to be Abed al-Karim Assi who is a Palestinian resident of Jaffa 0.59 km SW Tel Aviv carried out the attack and managed to escape from the area. The attacker was seen chasing the settler and stabbing him multiple times.
He evaded arrest despite an attempt by an off-duty Israeli Security Forces (ISF) personnel to catch him by ramming into Adel Assi using his vehicle. ISF launched wide-scale search operations for the attacker in several villages and towns around Salfit, with some leading to clashes with Palestinians such as in in the case of KiflHaris 4.56 km NW Salfit. However, Adel Assi still remains at large
The extrajudicial killing of Ahmad Jarrar
The suspected shooter of Havat Gilad operation, Ahmad Nasser Jarrar, was killed on Feb. 6th during a raid carried out by ISF in Al-Yamun 7.04 km W Jenin. Following an intelligence lead, ISF deployed its personnel to the area at dawn hours to conduct an arrest operation targeting A. Jarrar. However, formal charges were never filed against him but several arrest operations were attempted, such as on Feb. 4th which killed a protester, Ahmed Samir Abu Obeid, during confrontations in Burqin 3.73 km W Jenin.
As such, on Feb. 6th, ISF allegedly called on him to exit the building in which he was hiding before launching a missile towards it with the aim of pressuring A. Jarrar to surrender himself. When it became clear to ISF that A. Jarrar wasn’t going to give in to to their orders, a bulldozer was sent to demolish the structure. Shortly after, A. Jarrar came out of his hiding place armed with a firearm and several explosive devices, which led ISF to open fire towards him. He was immediately killed on site without injuring anyone else.
Hamas, and many other Palestinian factions, accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) of helping ISF, through its security cooperation, to identify and locate A. Jarrar. However, in response to the operation near Havat Gilad, the outpost was retroactively recognized by the Israeli government by a unanimous decision. This is the first stage before legalizing the outpost and the process may require some time before infrastructure could be developed but it remains a provocation by the Israeli government.
IED Attack Near Gaza
On Saturday, Feb. 17th, four ISF personnel were injured following an IED attack in Al-Ayn near Eshkol Regional Council 32.68 km W of Beersheba said to have been detonated by an explosive charge attached to a Palestinian flag. The incident occured during a military patrol carried out by ISF near the border fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israeli controlled areas to remove a Palestinian flag planted in the ground after clashes took place in the area. For ISF, this is the worst incident since 2014’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’ as two of its personnel were severely injured while two others are in moderate condition.
Although no militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, ISF warplanes and tanks launched several attacks on 18 targets belonging to Hamas across the Gaza Strip, including one underground tunnel. Following the large-scale attack on the enclave, reports indicated that two Palestinians were killed by tank fire near the border which ISF claimed were trying to infiltrate into Israeli controlled areas. Nevertheless, in response to this escalations, several rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli controlled areas with one house being damaged by a rocket landing on its roof.
Halamish Stabbing: Omar al-Abed gets 4 life sentences
The Palestinian, Omar al-Abed, who carried out the stabbing attack on the settlement of Halamish on July 21st 12.57 km NW of Ramallah was recently convicted, on Feb. 14th, by an Israeli military court to four life sentences. In addition, O. al-Abed was ordered to pay a sum of 1.8 million shekels in compensation to the family of the three killed Israeli settlers. Moreover, one of the three judges held a minority opinion that argued that O. al-Abed should face a death sentence.
Political & Related Events
The PA seeks to establish an International peace conference
On Feb. 20th, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the first time since 2009 to call for an international conference to convene by mid-2018 in order to renew negotiation talks between the PA and Israel. M. Abbas also used the platform to urge the UN body to formally recognize a Palestinian State under June 1967 borders and within the frameworks of UN resolutions.
Moreover, M. Abbas concluded his speech by warning the international community that so long as the United States (US) refuses to restore funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that there might be an outbreak of violence in the Palestinian territories and in the Middle East. According to M. Abbas, if the assistance required for refugees would stop then those who depend on the aid would turn to terrorism or would decide to migrate to Europe.
As such, M. Abbas reaffirmed the PA’s latest stance that the US should no longer be a sole mediator to the peace process as it disqualified itself by being biased towards Israel. However, few candidates suggested to be willing to examine Abbas’ proposal to use ‘multilateral mechanisms’ in the peace process. Such a candidate may be Russia, who Abbas visited on Feb 12th, which, in turn, could provide a platform the Palestinians seek.
Border tensions between Israel and Syria
According to reports, on Saturday February 10th, an Iranian surveillance drone allegedly took off from Syrian territory in an attempt to infiltrate Israeli airspace and monitor the area. However, the extent of the Iranian drone’s mission remains unclear as some ISF commanders claim that it might have even been an attack operation. Nonetheless, Israel perceived the Iranian alleged incursion as an aggression on its sovereignty and as such, the Israeli army assigned a military attack-helicopter (Apache) to intercept and down the drone which later reportedly crashed inside Israeli controlled areas. A spokesperson for the Israeli army said that the Iranian drone was based on an American drone (Lockheed Martin RQ-170) that was intercepted in Iran six years ago back in 2011.
Following the incident, Israel carried out a number of airstrikes targeting twelve Syrian and Iranian targets deep within Syrian territory, starting with the location from which the drone began its flight. According to reports, this is the most significant Israeli large-scale attack on Syria’s air defense since the 1982 war in Lebanon. Consequently, there is an estimated six casualties amongst the ranks of Syrian government forces and, perhaps, Hezbollah and Iranian forces as well, but all claims have yet to be confirmed. At the same time, Tiyas Military Airbase (or, T-4 airbase,) in Northern Homs province near Palmyra, was heavily damaged in the airstrikes prompting all flights from the base to cease while other bases were also attacked.
Major Incidents in Palestine, February 2018
However, Syrian anti-aircraft batteries retaliated by launching a barrage of missiles towards the Israeli warplanes and ultimately resulted in the downing of an F-16 fighter jet. Moreover, the two pilots of the plane that crashed in northern Israel managed to safely eject themselves but were, nevertheless, wounded. In addition, unconfirmed sources claim that, aside from the downed F-16 fighter jet, at least three other Israeli warplanes were damaged but remains unclear. Nonetheless, Israeli authorities have investigated the matter to determine if the plane was hit by a missile or if the pilots bailed under the impression of being under imminent threat and concluded that downing of the F-16 was due to an operational mistake made by the crew.
In an official statement, the Iranian government rejected Israel’s claim that it had intercepted an Iranian drone by instead saying that Iran’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is only to provide military advice to the Syrian army. Furthermore, other reports claimed that the drone was being used to monitor rebel activities in the Syrian Golan Heights on behalf of the Hezbollah for combat planning in the area. Nonetheless, Hezbollah claimed that the downing of the F-16 marked a shift towards a “new strategic phase” and that any new strike will result in a “ severe and serious response.” In this sense, an Israeli source claims that a future conflict with Hezbollah could result in some 150000 missiles being fired towards Israel, around 2000 per day.
To this some sources suggested, that during this incident, both Iran and Israel were engaged in their first ever physical confrontation, which may lead to the situation escalating even further. Yet, following the outbreak of the crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a conversation with PM Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone, urging him to exercise some restraint and to avoid any additional steps towards further deterioration. Moreover, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that threats to its military contingent in Syria is unacceptable. Nevertheless, Netanyahu maintained that Israel would continue to strike Iranian targets in Syria if need be, to prevent Iran from militarily entrenching itself in the region.
This was later reaffirmed on Feb. 18th at the Munich Security Conference by Netanyahu who, while raising a piece of the downed drone in his hand, said that Israel “will act not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.” A similar announcement was made by Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, "It's not the time to bark, but the time to bite” knowing that Israel has the US’ backing to conduct airstrikes in Syria. In this sense, the Israeli military deployed reinforcements to its border areas with Syria and Lebanon, in addition to its anti-missile system (Iron Dome.) However, it’s not likely that a war will erupt anytime soon as Netanyahu told US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, that at the moment, “Israel seeks peace.”
Accordingly, some sources claim that if Israel endeavours into a military conflict with Iran and its ‘proxies,’ it would most likely find itself all alone in such a confrontation. This is despite the fact that, at present time, its ‘enemies’ have been depleted by a seven year long civil war in Syria and are vulnerable to defeat. What might be worrying Israel is that although US President Donald Trump pledged to thwart Iranian influence in the Middle East this hasn’t yet translated into actual policies and remains a part of his rhetoric. Nevertheless, a confrontation between Israel and Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah still seems as an inevitable situation. But Russia’s imposing role in the region, ever since its intervention in Syria, will surely prevent an escalation.
The views in this production do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.