The Israeli military, the Shin Bet internal security agency and Border Police's joint raid overnight Sunday on Hamas infrastructure on the West Bank was an unusual event, owing not only to its large scope and deadly outcome — five dead Palestinian militants and two seriously wounded IDF soldiers — but to its implications for the future.
Hamas is trying to have it both ways — the terror outfit is negotiating an agreement with Israel on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip following their last standoff in May while concurrently scheming terrorist acts against the Jewish state on the West Bank.
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar has made it his goal to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian enclave's residents through an arrangement with Israel while solidifying his organization's image as an armed Islamist group girded for conflict with the so-called "Zionist occupier."
Hamas has been pushed aside lately as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group threw down the gauntlet several times in the form of launching rocket fire into Israel and orchestrating the escape of the six security prisoners from the maximum-security Gilboa Prison earlier this month.
Hamas fears losing its dominance on the Palestinian street if people start feeling like the group has abandoned the armed struggle against Israel. That is why it has been working as of late to establish armed, well-organized terrorist capabilities in the central and northern West Bank with help from the group's top brass, some of whom are operating from Turkey and Lebanon.
Building such capabilities took many months, perhaps even more than a year. It included funneling funds for the purchase of weapons by terror units that have already begun training for an attack and conveying the know-how necessary to produce homemade explosives. The militants themselves are villagers from the Ramallah and Jenin areas, places where Hamas has long had a very strong presence.
The secular Palestinian Authority and its security forces have struggled to crack down on its rival faction's activities in such areas, either because they were not aware of their existence or due to fear of entering Palestinian towns and villages where the population is Islamist and shields its Hamas operatives.
This terrorist infostructure was gradually uncovered during proactive routine Shin Bet operations in which the intelligence service and military arrested and questioned numerous Hamas operatives.
Bit by bit, through a combination of both human and technological intelligence gathering, the scale of such infrastructure — which took shape under the nose of the Palestinian Authority, and of Israeli security forces to some extent — became clear.
With these capabilities, Hamas is trying to achieve two strategic goals. First, as mentioned above, is positioning itself as a leading Islamist armed group that is true to its basic ideology. Second is its attempts to drag the IDF into open conflict in key areas throughout the West Bank, thereby discrediting the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus as Israel collaborators.
As IDF operations become more frequent and larger in scale, Hamas could capitalize on such occurrences to present Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his men as working in cahoots with Israel in the belief that its popularity would one day allow it to capture the entire West Bank from the Abbas' Fatah.
Israel’s raids on Sunday were intended to defuse the Hamas bomb which was clearly about to blow up.
The Shin Bet and the IDF sought a large and swift operation that would demonstrate to both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that Israel will not allow Hamas to entrench itself either in Gaza or the West Bank militarily, politically and mentally.
To put it simply, Israel will not allow Hamas to coalesce Gaza and the West Bank into a single, unified front in which it controls and leads the population according to its interests and ideologies.