Home Civilian based defense The alleged assassination in Nablus could signal a major shift in Israeli policy in the West Bank

The alleged assassination in Nablus could signal a major shift in Israeli policy in the West Bank

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The early Sunday morning death of a senior operative of a loosely organized Palestinian terror group known as the Lion’s Den in an explosion in the West Bank city of Nablus would be an almost unprecedented move by Israel, if indeed it were to the cause of the murder.

Tamer Kilani, a member of the upstart organization – which has claimed near-night attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians during a crackdown on Nablus – was killed around 1.30am when an explosive device attached to a motorbike detonated in the old city of Nablus, according to the group and the Palestinian media.

In a statement, Lion’s Den claimed that Israeli forces planted the bomb, with footage showing the moment of the explosion and another clip purporting to show an Israeli “collaborator” placing the motorcycle bomb in the area.

The Israel Defense Forces had no comment on the explosion and Kilani’s death, but a defense official provided military reporters with details about the man killed.

Kilani, previously imprisoned in Israel, was directly involved in sending a Palestinian to attempt a “large scale” attack in Tel Aviv last month, among several other shootings in the Nablus area.

The killing, if Israel was behind it, would mark a sea change in Israeli policy towards its counter-terrorism operations in the West Bank.

In recent years, Israeli forces have shot and killed Palestinians identified by the defense establishment as “ticking time bombs”. That is to say terrorists who would have been on their way to commit an attack or plan an imminent one.

Israeli officials say forces first try to arrest these Palestinians, but these operations, often deep in Palestinian towns, usually result in fierce firefights between sides, with the wanted men killed.

The Israeli military has previously targeted members of Lion’s Den with similar methods. In one such case, members of the group believed to be on their way to carry out an attack on an Israeli settlement near Nablus were ambushed by Israeli troops. One member of the group was killed in the ensuing shootout.

In the past, mainly during the second Intifada in the early 2000s, Israel used attack helicopters in the West Bank against Palestinian targets, but only in special circumstances and not automatically.

Military chief Aviv Kohavi recently gave the go-ahead for the use of armed drones in operations in the West Bank, if needed, although since approval in early September they have yet to be used.

The unusual bombing in Nablus recalls assassinations of Iranian scientists that have been attributed to Israel, such as the 2010 murder of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an Iranian nuclear scientist who was allegedly killed when a remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle was parked outside. his home in Tehran.

As with the assassinations attributed to Israel in Iran, Israeli officials neither confirm nor deny their involvement in the Nablus bombing.

Members of Lion’s Den are seen in Nablus in an image released by the armed faction on September 3, 2022. (Courtesy; Used pursuant to Clause 27a of the Copyright Act)

The only suspected similar bombing in the West Bank was in 2002, when Raed al-Karmi, a Tanzim commander accused of several deadly attacks and planning more, was killed in an explosion attributed to Israel near his residence in the city of Tulkarem.

Tensions in the Nablus area have escalated in recent weeks, with the Israeli army cordoning off the Palestinian city to clamp down on Lion’s Den.

Lion’s Den has claimed responsibility for the majority of shootings in the Nablus area since its establishment in August by members of various terror groups, including those previously affiliated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, among others .

An Israeli soldier was killed in an attack by the group and a second person was slightly injured in another attack on civilian vehicles. Other attacks were ineffective, but videos of the shootings uploaded to social media helped her gain huge popularity on the Palestinian street in a short time.

A counterterrorism offensive launched earlier this year and focused on the northern West Bank has resulted in more than 2,000 arrests in near-night raids. It also killed more than 120 Palestinians, many – but not all – in attacks or in clashes with security forces.

Israeli security forces fan out on the roof of a Palestinian home during a search in Salem near the West Bank city of Nablus, following a shooting claimed by the Lion’s Den faction, October 2, 2022. ( AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The operation was launched following a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people earlier this year. Another Israeli was killed in an alleged attack last month, and four soldiers were killed in the West Bank in attacks and during arrest operations.

Lion’s Den has been in Israel’s crosshairs during the recent upsurge in shootings in the Nablus area, most of which the group claimed responsibility for.

During a special security assessment held last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and senior defense officials discussed further action that could potentially be taken against the group, if the attacks persist.

He did not say what potential measures against Lion’s Den were discussed or approved at the meeting, but it may have included Sunday’s bombing, if Israel was indeed behind it.

Lion’s Den, meanwhile, has threatened a “painful response” to the killing, and generally pledged to continue its attacks, which it sees as a struggle against Israel’s presence in the Nablus area.

That presence doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, with defense officials pledging to maintain the lockdown of Nablus, now in its 12th day, and to continue action against the group, which has been branded by Israel of “terrorist squad”.

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