Is a third intifada unavoidable? The recent Palestinian success in the UN, the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the achievements noted by Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense have prompted greater agitation in the West Bank, and the IDF is concerned that the area may soon reach a boiling point.
According to Shin Bet data, the unrest in the area is ripe for the development of the kind of infrastructure that could potentially support a third intifada – prolonged and violent unrest the likes of which Israel had to deal with in 1987 and 2000.
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In recent weeks, the number of arrests made by the Palestinian Authority's security forces against Hamas operatives in the West Bank has plummeted, and the PA no longer seems motivated to curb their activities in the area.
Almost simultaneously, military intelligence has seen a spike in alerts suggesting terror groups are planning attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians alike.
According to the data, 130 attacks or attempted attacks were launched from the West Bank in November alone, the majority of which were classified by the defense establishment as "difficult to contain."
West Bank riots during Gaza op (Photo: AFP)
Still, an IDF military source in the Judea and Samaria Division told Ynet that, "We're able to reach everyone eventually, even those who hurl Molotov cocktails or throw rocks at cars."
The senior officer hedged that despite the palpable tension in the West Bank, the atmosphere is still far from resembling that which led to the al-Aqsa Intifada.
"We'll have a better assessment of the situation in March, after the Palestinians mark the Nakba and Naksa days and the Prisoners Day. That's a critical window. The Palestinians have a clear interest in maintaining their coordination (with the IDF) and the calm in the area. It's an asset for them," he said.
The IDF and Shin Bet's near-complete intelligence network in the area has enabled the arrest of five terror cells in the Ramallah sector in the past four months alone, all of which were planning to abduct soldiers.
The defense establishment believes the timing was not coincidental, as all of the plots were set to be executed on or around the anniversary marking the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in the Shalit deal.
The coming weeks will see dozens of former Palestinian prisoners return to the area, after the term of their imposed exile – stipulated in the deal – will end.
Riots in Issawiya (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
The IDF considers Ramallah to be a barometer for the atmosphere in entire Palestinian Authority and it seems that the latter no longer considers Hamas' presence in its cities illegal.
According to a top military source, "There are two scenarios that may indicate the future: The reopening of Hamas' da'wah institutions in the West Bank and the complete suspension of Hamas' operatives' arrests."
Still, he stressed that both were theoretical, and will require "a closer relationship" between Fatah and Hamas.
"The Palestinian security forces in the West Bank have been targeting Hamas, crisscross-wise, for a long time, right down to bugging mosques and arresting muezzins for incitement," he said.
The PA still has a firm grip on the ground and its security forces are able to successfully ward off riots in the Palestinian cities.
Commanders of the IDF's spatial brigades still hold regular coordination meetings with their Palestinian counterparts and the defense establishment is tracking any potential escalation in the area.
Israeli security forces have increased their efforts to contain and thwart such incidents.
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