JERUSALEM –According to some intelligence officials, Israel has been deliberately minimizing the threat of rocket attacks by Palestinian terror groups in Judea and Samaria, the biblical Jewish lands now known as the West Bank, parts of which are within rocket firing range of Jerusalem and other major Israeli cities.
Security analysts maintain publicity about terror groups’ current missile capabilities in the territories could generate criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria.
Monday, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group in the northern Samaria town of Jenin told WND they fired two rockets aimed at an Israeli military installation about a mile away. The leaders said the projectiles were called Bahaa rockets, named after Saed Bahaa, an Al Aqsa Brigades member killed last week in an Israeli anti-terror operation. A source close to the Brigades said the rockets actually were Jenin 1s, a less advanced Qassam rocket that can travel about one mile.
A security official confirmed on condition of anonymity there is information the rockets were fired this week. But an official spokesperson for the IDF told WND the army was not aware of any rockets fired Monday from Jenin.
The IDF has several times denied rockets were launched from northern Samaria only to later release select information stating some rockets had indeed been fired from the area.
Al Aqsa leaders previously told WND they fired seven rockets from the Jenin area in December and January aimed at nearby Jewish communities. The IDF at first denied any rockets were fired, but later confirmed in January it found one rocket that had been launched from northern Samaria, likely from Jenin.
At the time, Abu Oudai, Al Aqsa’s West Bank rocket coordinator, told WND, “[The one rocket the IDF said they found] was not the first time we shot rockets from Jenin to the settlements of the enemy inside the green line. It is the enemy who for the first time has admitted that these rockets exist in [Judea and Samaria] and that they were shot against Israeli targets. We have launched six times, and with the help of Allah we will launch these rockets regularly.”
Abu Oudai’s information of six rocket previously being launched is consistent with information obtained by security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Official Israeli defense spokesmen claim the threat of rockets being fired from Judea or Samaria is minimal. They say the army there has largely prevented rockets from being transferred to the territory from the Gaza Strip, where rockets are fired almost daily at nearby Jewish towns. The officials maintain anti-rocket operations in northern Samaria have been successful.
Yaacov Amidror, former head of Israeli military intelligence research, told WND yesterday, “Can Israel be sure in the future there won’t be a rocket threat? Of course not. But the army has been extremely successful in stopping the flow and production of rockets in the West Bank.”
On a few occasions the past two years the IDF has announced it has found evidence of rocket construction in Samaria during routine raids, particularly in Jenin and Nablus. In October, three members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a Gaza-based terror group, were arrested attempting to infiltrate northern Samaria to set up a Qassam missile manufacturing facility. The Committees has fired over 300 rockets from the Gaza Strip during the past four years.
The threat of projectiles has also been highlighted in Bethlehem, which borders Jerusalem. In February, Israel’s Shin Bet Security Services told reporters it captured a rocket launcher and mortars that were slated to be fired by the Committees terror group at Gilo, a peripheral Jerusalem neighborhood.
The day the attack was thwarted, Abu Abir, spokesman for the Committees, told WND his group was coordinating extensive rocket capabilities in Judea and Samaria:
“We call on (Shin Bet chief Yuval) Diskin and tell him not to be so happy and proud about stopping our attack because there is much more to come. I am not going to give details (about which cities we will attack), but we are planning to be present all around the West Bank. Every Israeli target is a legitimate target. Jerusalem, Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv and every Israeli point can be part of our goals.”
While Abu Abir’s statements can be chalked up to rhetoric, intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there is much information Palestinian terror groups have been producing and stockpiling rockets in northern Samaria that are currently capable of being fired.
But some security officials say the information is not getting out.
“All I can say is the information is known by the decision makers,” said a senior security official.
The official noted Israel has been “reluctant” to order large-scale anti-rocket operations in northern Samaria in spite of intelligence about rocket infrastructures there.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon previously warned any rockets fired by Palestinian groups from within Judea or Samaria would provoke an “unprecedented” military response.
Yesterday, Israeli Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin warned Hamas is seeking to manufacture Grad rockets, a kind of Katyusha rocket that can travel about 13 miles.
As WND reported, Al Mustaqbal, a research center in the Gaza Strip reportedly affiliated with Hamas, recently published a study labeling Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer a victory for “Palestinian resistance,” and stating Palestinian groups will now continue the next phase of their “war to destroy the Jewish state” by focusing on rocket and mortar attacks launched from Judea and Samaria.
The Judea and Samaria rocket infrastructure is largely thought to belong to Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades. Most rockets are likely stockpiled in northern Samaria and are premature versions of the Qassam, officials said. Qassams are improvised steel rockets, about four feet in length, filled with explosives and fuel. They can travel between one and four miles depending on the sophistication of the particular rocket.
Sources close to the Brigades claimed the group has several advanced versions of the Qassam in and near Jenin.
Abu Oudai told WND his organization in northern Samaria has developed a new kind of rocket named after late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that can reach major Israeli cities.
“The Arafat [rocket] can reach every goal we want all over the enemy state,” Abu Oudai said. “I don’t need to tell you that the aerial distance from Jenin to Netanya, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities is not big without telling what are all our plans concerning hitting Israeli settlements [in Judea and Samaria]. We can reach any point inside Israel, but I will not mention what are the regions we are ready to shoot from.”
Abu Oudai warned the Brigades will use positions gained after any Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria to launch rockets into Israeli cities.
Olmert has said his administration is seeking to withdraw from most of Judea and Samaria before 2009. Olmert officials last week said they also are drafting a plan to evacuate eastern sections of Jerusalem.
Since Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip nine months ago, terror organizations have been regularly firing rockets from the area aimed at adjacent Jewish communities. Three Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza yesterday. Fourteen were launched last week.
The IDF has retaliated with artillery fire against Gaza launch sites and targeted aerial strikes against suspected rocket factories, but the current retaliation policy has failed to stop or even slow the number of missiles being launched from Gaza, prompting calls from some in the defense establishment, including a former Israeli defense minister, to reoccupy parts of the territory.
Gaza borders desert and farming regions. There are some vital targets nearby, including the Ashkelon power station, which supplies much of Israel with electricity. Judea and Samaria, however, runs alongside Israel’s major population centers. A withdrawal from the area could place Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport within rocket firing range.
George Birnbaum, managing director of Kidron Strategies, a Jerusalem-based political consulting firm, commented, “If it became known there were rocket threats in the West Bank it would make it very difficult politically for Olmert to implement his withdrawal plan. There would be a lot more resistance from the general public and the Knesset.”
Knesset Member Effie Eitam, chairman of the National Union Party, told WND yesterday any Judea and Samaria withdrawal will result in rockets fired a major Israeli cities.
“Aside from the short-range rockets the Palestinians have now, it is just a question of time before they obtain longer-range missiles from Iran. Regardless, Olmert’s withdrawal will give the terrorists land bordering our major cities,” said Eitam, who serves on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Eitam noted other withdrawals that resulted in rocket threats:
“Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Now Hezbollah has over 10,000 missiles on the border pointed at us. Israel evacuated Gaza last summer. The missiles are flying out every day. There is no doubt a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria will bring a rocket war to Israel.”