Israel: Jenin, an operation more political than military | International

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In his house in the refugee camp in Jenin, already empty of the Israeli soldiers who took it on Tuesday, Abdel Karim Mansur searches for a photo on a WhatsApp group. In it, 24 Israeli soldiers pose in front of the double arch at the entrance to the camp, imitating the one made weeks before by the local armed group that attracts the most youth, the Jenin Brigades, with balaclavas, automatic rifles and a phrase: "You are not going here to enter". “It is all they have achieved. A photo, to show that they have entered”, laments Mansur (56 years old) next to the bombed wall and the cracked sofas. "Why does my family have to pay for the piper of internal Israeli politics?"

Israeli analysts share his feeling: that this week's operation in Jenin – the first in nearly two decades in the West Bank to include aerial bombardments and such troop deployments – has been primarily a show of force guided by political rather than military considerations. And that the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, approved it to appease his most ultranationalist ministers and the leadership of the colonization movement in the West Bank, who share political ideology and places of residence.

Both had spent months urging Netanyahu to do something, with calls such as that of Itamar Ben Gvir, Minister of National Security, to kill "not one or two, but tens, hundreds or, if necessary, thousands of terrorists"; that of Bezalel Smotrich (Finance) to “empty the swamp”, or that of Orit Struck to “bring order” to “protect civil life in Judea and Samaria”, in reference to the settlers in the West Bank. Struck is the head of National Missions who recently compared the security forces to the Wagner Group for criticizing the burning by settlers of dozens of Palestinian houses and cars.

“The political use that has been made of the army seems this time even more crude. The impression is that the main reason for the decision […] was the pressure that the settlers applied to the Government, in view of the deteriorating security situation on the roads of the West Bank. And it is not at all certain that the operation in Jenin will solve this specific problem," Amos Harel, a commentator on defense affairs for the newspaper, analyzed this Friday. Haaretz.

The Army had the action plan prepared for a year, but was reluctant to carry out an operation of this type. Deploying soldiers for days on the streets often increases own casualties, civilian casualties and international condemnation. For this reason, he preferred the usual system: brief raids -generally at dawn and supported by incognito forces- to make arrests and get out. The youths in the camp, some of whom also attack Israel and on the roads and settlements in the West Bank, always receive the armored personnel with stones, Molotov cocktails and firearms, but rarely manage to kill soldiers, given the disproportionate means. If the incursion goes awry, the number of dead Palestinians, between militants and civilians, could reach 11, as in February in Nablus.

Last month, however, an Israeli battleship was damaged by a wire-triggered booby trap. Soldiers inside were injured and a helicopter opened fire, for the first time in the West Bank in almost two decades, to support the evacuation of troops. Seven Palestinians died and the military commanders came to the conclusion that the homemade explosive was more developed than usual and they leaned towards do something.

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compromise solution

The result was a sort of compromise solution between one and the other: 48 hours of operation with a relatively low number of deaths, both Palestinians (12, at least half militants) and their own, one non-commissioned officer. The aerial bombardments were “limited, both in number and in cargo [explosiva] employee,” said the Army's international spokesman, Richard Hecht, in a videoconference with journalists on the first day of the operation. The state of the buildings points in that direction.

At the Jenin state hospital, outside the camp and while the operation was taking place, some youngsters confessed that they had escaped the siege by hiding their rifles. Something the Israeli army, with its surveillance drones and sources on the ground, is obviously aware of. Mansur, in fact, received a WhatsApp on his mobile with a cartoon in Arabic that presents the Brigades as animals fleeing to the hospital, instead of defending the camp. It comes from an unknown number with the Israeli flag as an avatar. Palestinians in the area often receive anonymous messages with instructions or propaganda during operations.

Cartoon sent by WhatsApp ridiculing the Jenin Brigades fleeing to the hospital.Antonio Pita

"The army perceives the terrorists' refusal to fight to the death as cowardice, a sign of weakness," says Nahum Barnea, the newspaper's most influential commentator. Yediot Aharonot. “But you can look at it another way: instead of fighting from a position of inferiority against the better-trained IDF fighters, the terrorists chose to focus on what they do best: shooting settlers and soldiers from cars. His flight prevented casualties in the army and civilian victims.

One day after the Israeli withdrawal, a member of Hamas's armed wing shot a soldier from a car "in response to the attack on Jenin." He did it in the Kedumim colony, where Smotrich resides. He then released a video in which he warned the far-right minister: "We almost knocked on your door." The author was killed after fleeing on foot. On Friday, Israeli soldiers killed two more militants in a raid in the city of Nablus, and a third in the town of Umm Safa.

The message in Israel is triumphalist. At a nearby military base, the weapons and hundreds of bullets and explosives seized in the operation were exposed to the press, to which the Brigades responded with a propaganda video preparing new explosives. Defense Minister Yoav Galant has described it as "successful, precise and courageous", and Netanyahu has assured that it "changes the equation with terrorism", just like in 2021 with Hamas, in the Guardian of the Walls offensive, and in May with Islamic Jihad in Gaza, with Shield and Arrow. Something that, in the opinion of Zvi Barel, a commentator on Middle East affairs from Haaretz“not a single sensible person in the army is believed, the Shin Bet [servicios secretos] or even the silent circles of the right”. Barel sees rather "an operation for the gallery" engendered by Netanyahu's dependence on his ultranationalist associates that "has served at least to clean the drool off the howling hunting dogs in his government."

A militiaman who returns home with his head and arm bandaged, an M-16 on his shoulder, five magazines and a ribbon on the forehead of the Jenin Brigades also claims victory. "I can't talk much. I am very tired of not sleeping these days, ”he warns. Without giving his name, he interprets the Israeli operation as a failure. “They used drones because they were afraid to go out into the streets, so they hid in houses, where they know we don't want to shoot. They said that there was something huge in the camp and the only thing they have achieved is to destroy houses and streets”. During funerals, militiamen in Jenin delivered the same message by firing into the air with M-16 and Kalashnikov rifles.

Most of the deaths were born in the 2000s, the horizon of peace already buried. The four that Islamic Jihad identified as members are between the ages of 14 and 19. The youngest was Nureddín Marshud and his father, Hussam, wipes tears with the mask in the state hospital.

Hussam Marshud, at the Jenin state hospital, this Tuesday.
Hussam Marshud, at the Jenin state hospital, this Tuesday.Antonio Pita

"Israel gave him permission to accompany me when I entered [a trabajar]. One day, three years ago, she sat down and said to me: 'I want to find a job to help you,' she said. Israel has released a photo of him with an M-16, a common display among youths in the camp. A friend next to him, Odei, insists he was unarmed when he was shot and shows a photo.

Photo of the death of Nureddín Marshud, according to his friend Odei, in the Jenin state hospital, this Tuesday.
Photo of the death of Nureddín Marshud, according to his friend Odei, in the Jenin state hospital, this Tuesday.Antonio Pita

In the same age group (17 years old) is Ahmed, son of Abdel Karim Mansur. He comes from the funeral of one of his friends. He recounts that the soldiers interrogated him and kept him handcuffed and blindfolded for hours. “The first thing they did when they took me upstairs was to force me to go to the window,” he recalls. Only then did his shooters force the bars and take up positions there.

― Now I hate Israelis more. If they kill my friend, it makes me want to take revenge. If everything stays the same, I'll be a fighter.

― "He wants to be an engineer, to study engineering", says his mother, Asma.

― “It's true”, Ahmed corrects himself, “I'm going to be an engineer”.

"Well, actually now he's saying what I want...

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