Israel close to launching major West Bank op? Depends which news station you follow

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After a violent battle in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Monday, several right-wing lawmakers and officials renewed their calls for the military to carry out a major operation in Palestinian cities. Hebrew media outlets reported on the demands, but when it came to reporting the position of the defense establishment, the versions varied significantly.

Six Palestinians were killed and nearly 100 were wounded in the Jenin clashes, the most violent in the city since an Israeli army raid in January. Eight soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces were wounded in the clashes and as a result of a massive roadside bomb that was detonated near an army vehicle.

The operation itself was not particularly unusual. IDF forces entered the outskirts of the city at around 4 a.m. to detain two wanted Palestinians suspected of involvement in terror activities. Many such operations have been carried out in Jenin and other Palestinian cities over the past year and a half.

As troops were leaving the city, a large explosive device was detonated near a Panther armored personnel carrier (APC), causing seven soldiers light-to-moderate injuries. Gunmen affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group opened fire at the disabled vehicle as the army worked to evacuate the wounded IDF soldiers to hospitals. An eighth soldier was lightly wounded in the subsequent clashes.

Such explosive devices are not an unusual sight in the West Bank in recent months, but the scale of damage caused to the APC, and the high number of Israeli injuries, were. In turn, to aid the extraction of the wounded soldiers under fire, an Apache helicopter launched missiles at open areas near the site of the roadside bomb to scare off the Islamic Jihad gunmen.

The use of the Apache was not typical for such operations. The strikes marked the first in the West Bank in some two decades. In the early 2000s, during the Second Intifada, the IDF used attack helicopters in the West Bank, but only in special circumstances and not as a matter of routine.

IDF officials have said previously that the army may use attack helicopters or armed drones in West Bank operations, if necessary. After the use in Monday’s operation, IDF officials stressed that the policy of using air firepower in the West Bank would continue, in specific cases.

An Israeli Air Force AH-64 Apache attack helicopter releases flares during an Israeli army raid in Jenin in the West Bank on June 19, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The Jenin battle, along with a recent string of shooting attacks in the northern West Bank — many of which targeted civilians — spurred calls by senior coalition lawmakers and settlement leaders for a sweeping military campaign in the area.

Such an operation has been in the works by the IDF for several months, much like any other military plan. But the question of whether it will be executed remains unclear, and media reports on the matter were conflicting.

Channel 12 news reported that Israel was being “brought closer to a larger operation against the terror infrastructure in the Jenin area.”

Channel 13 news, meanwhile, reported that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in closed conversations — usually code for statements given to reporters unofficially — that there was “currently no need for an operation, but Israel will not hesitate to launch it if needed.”

And the Kan public broadcaster said that following the heavier gunfire and large roadside bomb, “the defense establishment understands that Israel is approaching a limited operation in Nablus and Jenin.”

Smoke billows from the aftermath of the detonation of a Palestinian explosive charge on an Israeli armored vehicle during an Israeli army raid in Jenin in the West Bank on June 19, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

There has been mounting pressure from the government and settlement leaders to launch a large-scale operation in recent weeks, but the IDF has been resisting it, according to the Haaretz daily.

The various reports indicate that Israel may either launch a “limited” operation in the northern West Bank, or launch a “larger” one, or not launch one at all.

It is not known which option the defense establishment will ultimately choose. But if it does decide to carry out a major operation against Jenin or other areas in the northern West Bank, it would become instantly apparent, as any entry of Israeli forces into Palestinian cities, especially on a large scale, is quickly reported by Palestinian media.

The IDF, for obvious reasons, would never announce such plans in advance.

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