The West Bank is lacking security and stability following armed clashes between Palestinian security forces and gunmen deployed in refugee camps — most recently on Nov. 18 in Fara refugee camp in Tubas city, in the northeastern West Bank.
In light of this security tension, Israel agreed Dec. 6 to allow the entry of armored vehicles from Jordan to the West Bank to be handed over to the Palestinian security services, after having prohibited the entry of such vehicles for four years, during which Israel only approved the acquisition by the Palestinian Authority (PA) of anti-riot light weapons. The armored vehicles were received in the presence of Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian officers.
Haaretz newspaper reported on the same day that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have approved the delivery of five armored jeeps for the [PA] security forces.”
The newspaper also read, “The jeeps were delivered overnight Sunday into Monday via the Allenby Bridge. The vehicles were loaded onto transporters at the crossing under the supervision of Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli officers, and were sent to PA security bases.”
Haaretz noted, “Palestinian security forces need armored vehicles, especially in the northern West Bank."
Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor, “The PA controls security in the West Bank, despite recent security events, which must be stopped and prevented from stretching to other parts of the West Bank. Despite the political rift between the PA and Israel, the latter fears future possible security unrest in the West Bank, and this is why it allowed the entry of armored vehicles to the Palestinian security services.”
This is not the first time that Israel allowed the PA to obtain armored security vehicles. In July 2010, the Israeli Ministry of Defense had issued a recommendation to allow the PA to import 50 Russian-made armored vehicles in light of the significant improvement of the security cooperation between the two sides. Israel wanted to persuade the PA to enter into direct negotiations with it and sought to raise the capabilities of the Palestinian security services.
In July 2007, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had approved a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to provide the PA with military equipment such as bulletproof vests and military tents in a bid to strengthen the PA vis-a-vis Hamas, a few days after the Hamas takeover of Gaza on June 14, 2007.
However, the recent Israeli move to arm the PA by allowing the entry of armored vehicles occurred amid the political stalemate between the PA and Israel since April 2014 and the halted negotiations between them.
Abdel Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at An-Najah National University in Nablus, told Al-Monitor, “The Israeli approval to provide the PA with this new military equipment is due to serious Israeli security concerns about the possibility that the security situation in the West Bank may spiral out of control.”
He said, “Palestinian internal clashes may erupt within the ranks of Fatah, or between the Palestinians themselves. This may urge the Palestinian national authorities to take advantage of the chaos to carry out armed attacks against Israel, inside the West Bank or Israeli cities.” Qassem added, “This is the scenario that Israel fears, and this is why it provided the PA with these armored vehicles."
Maj. Gen. Hazem Atallah, the director general of the Palestinian police in the West Bank, announced Dec. 16 that the police department suffers a great shortage of police officers, whose numbers do not exceed 8,500 serving in all of the cities across the West Bank, while 11,500 officers are needed in order for the police department to perform its duties for the Palestinians.
A Palestinian security official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The US security coordinator for Israel and the PA Gen. Frederick Rudesheim played a positive role in convincing the Israeli authorities to allow the entry of the vehicles through bona fide mediation efforts among Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli security chiefs.”
The official added, “Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai and Central Command Cmdr. Maj. Gen. Roni Numa expressed their support to the Palestinian request of the armored vehicles since they are closely watching the PA’s strict crackdown on rioters and its efforts to contain the security chaos in the West Bank.”
In conjunction with Israel's approval of the PA’s acquisition of the military armored jeeps, Israeli Walla news website published Dec. 15 a lengthy report by its military expert Amir Bukhbut that stated, “The No. 1 threat to Israel in the West Bank is that Palestinians may shoot at settlers’ cars and Israeli military jeeps, in light of the desire of the Palestinian organizations to raise the level of their [military] operations. This is a sign of the sensitivity of the security situation in the West Bank, which may be inflamed at any moment.”
In his report, Bukhbut said, “Israeli Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot issued instructions in recent days ordering the Israeli forces to deploy on the main crossroads in the West Bank, to set up sudden security checkpoints, gather security information, launch campaigns of arrests and investigations, and coordinate with the PA, which is carrying out raids against Hamas military groups.”
Israel announced Dec. 9 the arrest of a Palestinian Hamas [military] cell that had planned to carry out attacks on military bases in Jerusalem, while on Dec. 8, Israel had also announced that it arrested another Hamas cell whose members planned to carry out shootings and abduct settlers.
Samira al-Halaiqa, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Hamas in Hebron, told Al-Monitor, “The sudden Israeli approval on the supply to the PA of armored vehicles and military equipment is striking and surprising, because Israel and the PA were witnessing a political standoff, which means that they expect or are aware of an imminent outbreak of waves of suicide attacks against Israeli targets.
She added, “This pushed the two sides to turn the page on their political differences and agree to deter any new Palestinian attempt to further encourage attacks currently taking place in the West Bank from time to time.”
Perhaps the coming days will reveal the real reason why the PA was able to get its new armored jeeps. Was this aimed to strengthen it to face the Palestinian internal security chaos or to deter armed attacks against Israel? Regardless of the motives behind this positive Israeli step toward the PA, Palestinians feel that the coming phase would not necessarily bring calm and stability to the West Bank.